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Friday, 25 July 2014

78. Gardening bore

This one goes out to Mike, who will soon be back in the gardening groove. Have fun, sir.

You might remember last year we overhauled the veg garden: creating raised beds, laying a stone path and adding a rustic stick fence. We were pretty pleased with it at the time but, I have to say, I’m really pleased with how it’s looking one year on. It looks like it’s been this way forever, whereas last year it looked a bit weird – too shiny and new perhaps.

Without the ball-ache of having to build the damn veg garden, this year’s gardening has been much more enjoyable. As a result, Rob has finally caught the gardening bug and realised what I’ve been wanging on about all this time. Now, he obsesses over his tomato plants daily – much like a kindly pimp watching over his vulnerable sex workers. (Yup, I’m pretty sure that’s how the whole prostitution thing goes.)

We’ve had a rainy summer so far and, after last year’s tomato blight, we’re not taking any chances this year. Rob has built plastic coverings for the two tomato beds. (So, if you’re wondering what the ugly plastic sheeting is for in the pictures, that’s it.) It’s working a treat so far and it looks like we’re in for a good crop.

We’ve already got courgettes, potatoes, mustard greens, beetroot and cherry tomatoes. We had great rhubarb a few months ago. And, still to come, we have big pink tomatoes, yellow plum tomatoes, kale, sprouts, parsnips, swede, butternut squash, Jerusalem artichokes, cauliflower, and sweet potatoes. Next year, finally¸ we should be able to eat our first crop of asparagus! Sadly our fruit trees are not very productive this year because of all the rain and hail storms, but hopefully we’ll get a good amount of grapes off the vines.  

Most exciting of all, Rob has started work on our summer kitchen. We’re turning what was a dilapidated old barn into an outdoor cooking, dining, seating, and BBQ space. It’s going to be epic…when it’s finally done…in time for Christmas…maybe. Pictures of work in progress to follow next time.

In the meantime, do indulge this old gardening bore. Thanks darlings. 

We're attempting aubergines in pots this year.

Monster Jerusalem artichokes.

Monster parsnips.

Monster courgette plants. Spot the theme.

We grow our squash plants upright, along a trellis to save space.
The fruits look amazing hanging down off the fence.

Sweet potato starting to creep.

The tomato cave.

These will grow up to be Bulgarian pink tomatoes.

Rose. Creeping thyme beneath. Sunflower in progress.


Golden beetroot

Cherry toms. Or, as I like to call them, Rob's bitches.

70s aerial shot. Natch.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

77. The spectacular tale of the splendid indoor staircase

Once upon a time there was a girl who moved to a house in Bulgaria. A house with no indoor staircase.

Every time that girl wanted to go upstairs, she had to go out the front door and walk around to the external staircase at the back of the house. Every time that girl wanted to go downstairs she’d have to go outside, down the external stairs and around to...you get the idea.

Outside. In pouring rain. In deepest snow. In pyjamas.

This girl had a boyfriend who, despite his arty-farty degrees (plural) and complete lack of DIY experience, turned out to be quite the handyman. He was as surprised as she was.

‘Please make me an indoor staircase,’ she’d plead.

‘Put it on the list,’ he’d sigh.

At the time, the list in question was four pages long and included much more important things like:         
  • Get windows.
  • Make a kitchen.
  • Get heating and wood.
  • Replace mud floors with, er, proper floors.
  • Get lots of cats. Cuddle cats.

So it took a while for the boy to get around to the staircase. Decades (or what felt like it) later, work finally began.

The boy toiled and toiled through the cold; building new walls, knocking through old walls, making new doorways and doors, and oh so much plastering. He plastered ‘til his fingers bled – or maybe that was Bryan Adams in the summer of ’69. Things got blurry for a while. Time passed.

'It’d better be f**king done by Christmas or I’m moving back to f**king England,' the sweet girl encouraged. 

'Mmmmrrrrhhh,' was all the broken boy could manage.

And lo, like a Christmas miracle, it was done. In fact, as Christmas miracles went, it was right up there with the virgin birth. The girl didn’t have to move back to England after all – although the boy might have quite liked it if she did.


PS. It took until Easter to get all the finishing touches done, like flooring and painting. Hence, the late post. But anyway, it’s done, hurrah! Marvel at its splendidness! Well done that boy.


Rob takes in the mountain air...from the comfort of the staircase. 



Knocking through a supporting wall to make a doorway under the stairs.
It was only slightly scary.

"Plastered 'til his fingers bled..."


Even Pepper the cat is impressed. And she has a lump of coal for a heart.

You can't see it, but there is a door under the stairs where we knocked through into the kitchen.
And the wall hasn't collapsed yet, so that's good.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

76. A change is gonna come

I quit my job recently.

It was a good job, one that I enjoyed maybe 80-90% of the time. That’s pretty good going, I think; some people hate their jobs 90% of the time. And it’s not like I’ve ever had a burning ambition to work for myself or run my own company. I’m one of life’s natural employees, you see; just tell me what needs doing and I’ll get it done. I am whatever the opposite of dynamic is. Un-dynamic probably.

Unfortunately, being an employee just isn’t that compatible with life in Bulgaria. The ultimate aim in coming to BG was to work less, spend more time together, and lead a simpler (greener) life. Working 9-5 Monday-Friday and flying 2,500 miles each month just isn’t the best fit with that. And I’ve known it for quite a while, if I’m honest, I just kept putting off the inevitable.  

So, I’m going to be self-employed, freelance, an unintentional entrepreneur. I’ll be my own boss.

It’s going to be great working to my own timetable. I’m at my best in the mornings and by 4pm I’m really not doing anyone any good. I’ll be able to work early in the mornings and spend the afternoons tinkering in the garden. And I’ll have lots of time for visitors – without worrying that I’ve nearly used up all my holiday six months into the fricking year.

I will miss having a steady income, obviously, although not as much as you’d think. Our low outgoings mean I don’t need to earn a lot of money to get by. I have no idea how people with mortgages ever do this – they must simply have huge balls. Or be, like, really dynamic.

I’ll miss my colleagues too: my lovely colleagues who call me “Cruston”; who throw paper aeroplanes at me when I’m in the office; who put up with my shitty bowling (I drag the team average down a long way); and who took me off to Wetherspoons for ham, egg and chips that time I was massively hungover. I’ll miss shooting the shit with people. You can expect to see me on Twitter and Facebook a lot in the near future, desperately seeking any sort of interaction with the English-speaking world. “Is anyone there?” I’ll tweet. “I’ve only got a donkey and 20 courgettes for company, please help.” It’s difficult to convey a slow decline into loneliness-induced-insanity in 140 characters, but I’ll give it my best shot.  

So that’s the big news. Hurrah! I’ll be providing writing and editing services for authors, businesses and publishers.

It’s going to be ACE and I won’t end up at all BROKE and MAD.

Friday, 10 January 2014

75. Living abroad and the eighty-fourth problem

Lately I’ve been reading this book about Buddhism. It’s not been going well; I don’t think I’m really cut out for Buddhism. I spent ages staring at this close-up-magic-eye-type picture in the book, trying to work out what it was. It was a cow’s face. Even when I knew I was looking for a cow (because I cheated and skipped ahead to the answer later in the book), it still took me forever to see it. ‘Come on,’ I’d will myself, ‘see the cow.’ I felt ridiculous. Also, every time I type the word ‘Buddhism’ in this post, I miss-spell it and have to be corrected.

But one bit in the book did resonate with me. It was about problems. According to the Buddha, everyone has 83 problems and there is nothing any of us can do about it. Even if you win the lottery, find love, live in a paradise location, enjoy rude health…doesn’t matter. You’re still going to have 83 problems – it’ll just be a different set of problems than you had before. You solve one problem, another takes its place.

The story goes that a farmer went to the Buddha seeking help. He said he liked farming, but worried about too-wet or too-dry seasons. He had a good wife, but she nagged him sometimes. He loved his sons, but felt they didn’t always show him proper respect. The Buddha said that he couldn’t help; everyone has their 83 problems and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

‘So, like, what good is all your wisdom then, if it can’t help?’ The farmer asked.
The Buddha replied, ‘Well, it can’t help with the 83 problems. But it can help you with the 84th problem.’
‘Oh yeah, what’s the 84th problem?’
‘You want to not have any problems.

Brilliant, no? To quote another spiritual guru, Ace Rimmer from Red Dwarf, ‘…sharper than a page of Oscar Wilde witticisms rolled into a point, dipped in lemon juice, and stabbed into somebody's eye.’

Anyway, it just really stuck with me. I’m always trying to steamroller my way through problems: I always thought it was one of my strengths.

I realise I’ve been feeling like the farmer lately. ‘Hey, Buddha,’ fictional me would say, ‘I’ve moved abroad, have no mortgage, and am doing a job (from home) that I tend to like. But, there’s always so much to do on the house, we’re still only scraping by with the language, and there’s hardly ever time for fun stuff. I want to travel more, Buddha, I want to see more of the strange and lovely place I’ve moved to. But there’s the house and work and cats, not to mention we don’t have enough savings. And don’t even get me started on my pension! Also, Buddha, while you’re at it, one of my cats died and it’s been really sad. Help me.’

I didn’t think moving abroad would guarantee a perfect life. I knew it’d be tough. (If I wanted an easy life, I would’ve picked a number of other places above Bulgaria.) Overall, it’s been great. If I had the chance to go back in time, I’d still do it all again. Rob and I agree that our two-and-a-half years here have been the best of our relationship so far. Also, honestly, they’ve been the hardest years. That’s the thing about moving abroad; everything gets kind of…amplified. The highs are brilliant, but the lows can be pretty fucking awful. Maybe it’s all part of being away from family and friends. There are fewer distractions here so, when something is wrong, there’s nowhere to hide from it.

Also, the thing about problems, is that they’re portable little beggars. If you’re a functioning alcoholic back home, or a workaholic, or terrible with money, you’re not going to magically shed that stuff at the border. If, like me, you’re prone to down periods and have a tendency to dwell on stuff, you’d better know that’s coming with you. But it’s okay because everyone has their problems and even as you solve one, another will crop up, right? (It’s a bit like popping zits in that sense.)

It’s pretty therapeutic, accepting the reality that life will never be problem free, no matter where you are. Rain will fall, weeds will grow, cats will get sick and die, that bit of plaster will keep
falling down. Sometimes things go wrong, that’s the way of life. At least I can cross that 84th problem off the list.

Right, enough with the Buddhism, here’s a picture of a cat really enjoying life.