Saturday, November 28, 2009

Romania's very own John Prescott ( sort of..)

The last two days have been spent tramping all over the hills, and making sure all our plans are actually happening. The last job today was to go to look at an orchard as far away from Mosna as it is possible to be without being in the next Mayor's jurisdiction.
There are about 19 owners in total, and ( because we have to buy ALL a seller's land so they can get the extra pension from the government) we already own 2 bits of it. Some of the orchard was completely derelict and other parts were well maintained, and the access is mostly overgrown to keep the uninitiated out. Many of the trees still had apples that noone had bothered to collect, but many more of them were dead with huge balls of mistletoe having strangled them to death. I can feel an EU project coming on...
As we made our way back we saw the Mayor's car at the Forrest Man's house, and dropped in to say hello. The TV was on and there was huge excitement. It was a news programme, and they were about to show the film of Basescu hitting a small boy at a 2004 rally. We all watched fascinated as he punched the boy in the face. It has apparently been shown endlessly, which is understandable. The difference with our own JP ( as Tony Blair said at the time, Hey, that's John) is that the boy had only asked for his autograph.
The report went on to say that the boy, now older and living in Italy, had gone into hiding as he had had threatening calls - including death threats. Basescu at first denied it happened, then said it was a doctored video, and his latest is that he doesn't remember the incident. As Alin would say, we shall see.
As an aside, Basescu was a ship's captain, and was recently asked what he would do if he lost the election. When he replied that he would probably return to being a ship's captain, he was gently reminded that as Minister of Transport, he had completely sold off the Romanian Merchant fleet. This was very much akin to our own Gordon Brown's brilliant decision to dispose of most our gold.
We ended up having meatball tarragon soup and sarmale with them, whilst the TV endlessly debated the pros and cons of the incident. In the UK nowadays I suspect such an incident would immediately lead to prosecution and imprisonment, but this is Romania. As many people will now NOT vote for him as those who were not going to vote for him WILL.
We will see.
I just heard a weather report on the BBC. Aparently there is flooding in Puddletown....

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Back to work

With my friend having left, it is back to the grindstone today with a vengeance.
Having had the long drive to and from Cluj last night we filled up with petrol. There, in the hut that serves as an office, amidst the various maps and papers, was the very latest monthly from JAMIE OLIVER - in Romanian, teaching them how to cook. I can't help but think his recipes don't start with.. " Take a pig..." or " take 20 litres of neat alcohol." I daresay someone must be buying it.
The second round of the Presidential elections takes place on 6th December. Today, in an effort to dislodge Basescu, the Liberal party ( nominally his supporters ) the PSD, the PC, the "Transylvania for Hungarians" party and the " Kill all Hungarians" party formed a pact which, with a bit of luck, might get rid of him and deliver Geoana. There has been skullduggery at work. A large Geoana poster, set in 5 cm thick metal posts and in concrete was rammed and destroyed by a politically motivated vehicle from downtown Medias. At least that is the story. I suspect it may have been a drunk.
They do go a bit further than we do. In the petrol station you can get Geoana adverts which are actually the smelly things you hang in your car to make it smell nice.
I was particularly delighted to see the corn mill at work today. This dates back ( in part) to the early 1800s, and still takes in the corn cobs from the locals, grinds the corn and gives it back for a fee in time-honoured fashion. Here, the fee is usually a percentage of the amount milled. There was a most picturesque queue of worthy sons and daughters of the soil, along with their carts and horses, waiting to have their corn dealt with. It is mostly made into polenta, and is also mixed with wheat flour to make the bread go further.
Our first call was to Mosna Town Hall. We had asked Vasily, the map supremo, to extract names and addresses against field numbers.
There was no sign of him. One of the ladies told us that he had worked all night, fortified by copious draughts of tuica, and had had to be carried home at 7am when everyone came to work. The Mayor had granted him official leave to stay there until Monday...
Armed with our list ( the first names were clear and legible, the later ones very squiggly and a bit unsteady) we set off to check the fields themselves against the maps.
Always when we do this we are followed by a gaggle of old men and women, all of whom know every blade of grass and who it belongs to - except none of it corresponds with the maps or the property titles. It was a glorious day once more and we walked a total of about 12 kms checking and cross checking - the property titles also tell you who is to the North, South, East and West, so it is easy enough to check correctly, just time consuming. In the distance we could see Toaderico ploughing some of our fields. It was a treat to see a small patchwork of presently unused land being transferred into one large piece that will hopefully be productive. I had had some deep holes dug at various points in an area we are interested in, and we checked how they were coming on. All were more than 2 meters deep, and all still showing deep black earth even at the bottom. I told the diggers to stop - the land is more than good.
On our way back we came across the Mayor supervising the re-erection of the giant Geoana poster, and told him of our discoveries. His face broke into a broad grin.
"Ah, da. Forte Bine - terren fromose."
The land is good.

Elysian Interlude

I've had a friend out here for the last few days. As ever, he has been bowled over by the place ( to be fair the weather has been superb and Transylvania is showing herself at her very best).
He has tagged along with everything we have been doing but we have curtailed the days so that we have not started before 9 and lunch has been by 6 each day with free time from 8. I'm sure he thinks this is too long for comfort but is only about 70% of what we normally do.
He likens the culture to that of Ireland in the 50's and early 60's, or Portugal until more recently, with a very agrarian rural economy. In the villages the number of cars is minimal, and the locals produce all they need to live.
Of course, he has had to drink the tuica ( which he quite liked) and eat some things which at home he would never consider, but even these he was quite taken with. We tramped some fields to show him things and his superior brain produced some good thoughts which we will mull over and possibly incorporate into what we are doing.
We had paparnash every night - the sweet cheese doughnuts with jam and sour cream that are so tasty. As we ate in a different place every night, we had four different manufactures, and the decision was handed down that the best are now at the Binderbubi.
The highlight of the visit was our "lunch" at the Pension Liana in Nemsa ( Elena's) when we had kid stew. I had been told it was going to be a special surprise but I had no idea I would be providing the ingredients....
Incidentally, there is now a flight from Stansted to Sibiu, which is only just over an hour from Sighisoara. This is operated by Blue Air, and is thoroughly to be recommended. Not only do you get to choose your seat, at the moment you don't even have to pay for luggage.
And they have a frequent flyer discount programme too...
Apparently, despite eating one goat , we still have 62. The only conclusion I can come to is that it is something to do with people paying us rent late, but I am assured that everyone is up to date and we are not, nor have we been , owed any goats.
Perhaps they are just coming in to get out of the sun....

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Walking the fields

Being out in the fields in the sunshine is one of the reasons I come to Romania, and yesterday was one of those days when we had to walk the fields in company and have fields pointed out to us and discuss what needed to be done to them. It was the most perfect day and I am now boasting a winter tan.

The day stared with Toaderico insisting we had some mulled wine against the cold ( it was about 17c in the sunshine) followed up with a ride to the further reaches of the empire sitting, emperor like, on a plank across the trailer.

Toaderico used to work in Germany but as he says he hated it. He made pots of money but was so so miserable he had to drink it all. Now he is back in the village of his birth ( Alma Vii) and happy as one of his pigs in the mud bath he calls his back yard.

We set off in search of a fabled lake, which Toaderico assured us he had used to visit when he was a child. We found it all right, but unfortunately the end had been dynamited to get the fish out by some shepherds years ago. Potentially it's a lovely spot, but, frankly,there is little of merit in rebuilding the end, because it is too far away from anything to enable a profit to be turned. But the ride on the tractor was huge fun, enlivened by Toaderico's 4-speaker mp3 player blasting out Romanian music. I would estimate it is at least 20 years old.

The walking started thereafter, and five hours later we got back to the tractor. The land we surveyed was more than good, and Toaderico's instructions in terms of ploughing, treating weeds and generally making ready for planting were all costed and agreed.

Nothing would do, of course, but that we should go to his mother's house for a drink and lunch ( by now it was 4:30 - bit early but still) where we fed the pigs and chickens with corn ( I'm almost sure it's mine but who knows) and ate a delicious dish which I could only describe as scrambled eggs with cheese and really thick very well cooked bacon. The only drawback was the two glasses of tuica I had to consume before I could get to the food. But the business was done and that was the major point.

In the meantime a herd of locusts had descended on the car, with people waving property titles at us and demanding we consider their land, particularly as it was especially good and productive, unlike their neighbour's which was rubbish. We have had to institute a policy that we pay the identical price everywhere, as otherwise it would be a spiral and create great ill will. As it is, people either accept or reject the price is it suits them, and we then have to do the hard work of registrating it ( as Alin would say ) and transferring title. In the event none of them wanted to accept the prices, but I have no doubt they will in time.

The day ended with dinner at the BinderBubi for 6 which worked out at GBP7 per head. Considering the wine, three courses, coffee and beers I though this more than cheap...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Very clever goats

Meanwhile, back in Romania, they have a Presidential election this coming Sunday.
If it was down to the number of posters, Mircea Geoana would win by a mile. But Alin assures me the present incumbent ( Basescu) will be the winner.
" You see, Mr. King, it's like this. If you are Coca Cola, you don't doing much advertising. But if you are Sighisoara Cola, then you must doing much advertising just to get little business."
I'm not 100% sure his argument is valid, but all the other candidates names end in "escu" .There are cases of mothers forcing their daughters into marriages with men just because their name ended in "escu". For some reason you are regarded as an important person. In fact, I was recently introduced as "Learescu" just to make the point...
The weather here is beautiful and warm - 17C today and the most brilliant blue sky. There is the odd wisp of smoke as the gloaming sets in, rising straight up, which is very picturesque.
This is the time of year when the ploughing has to be done so we spent most of today checking that the people doing it were in the right places. It's surprising how often our next door neighbours get their fields ploughed for free...
We went to the Mayor for a cup of coffee and ended up having special sausages made from goat and pig. I was slightly suspicious so we went to check on our goats to make sure it was only the sheep that the teethy wolves were eating. It looks as though the teethy wolves have been adding goats rather than subtracting them, as instead of 58 we now have 62 ( as far as I can calculate the absolute absolute maximum should be 56 and that's stretching it a bit), and all, I am assured, are pregnant. I find this a little hard to believe as it's only now that the billys are let lose on them, but we shall see, as Alin would say. We needed to build an additional shelter to house the new lot of kids, and this has been a major undertaking, with advice from everyone in the village as to exactly where it should be built.Also which way round. And how big, long, wide, high and of what. And what the party should be like when it is finished.
Whilst all this was going on the goat man , Dan and his two helpers had been quietly working away, and I was astonished to see a whole new building within 50 feet of the old one when I arrived there today.
I asked how much it had cost.
" Nothing," said Dan. Being Romania, this had not surprised me as much as it ought to have done.
It transpired the uprights and roof trusses had been donated by the forest man, in exchange for a goat and a pig. The roof was old metal sheets salvaged from cutting up a redundant water tank. The sides had been built using reclaimed block and bricks from various building sites round about. And of course the cement, sand nails etc. had simply appeared..
Now bearing in mind we don't actually have any pigs ( we ate ours this time last year), and it would mean we should only have 55 goats, and however you care to look at it most of the stuff was - how shall I put this delicately - stolen - I was a bit worried about the whole thing.
Dan assured me it was fine. Everyone who "donated" had been compensated. How? He had given them baby goats...and some sheep.
So my goat man steals sheep from my shepherd.
And the goats appear to have some form of alien reproduction as when we counted up the number of people who had been compensated, I reckon the most I should have is 48......
You may be wondering about the pig as officially we don't have any. I'm reliably informed it had wandered into the goat pen and was then passed on to a third party...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Some have greatness thrust upon them...

The news reported in the Herald today that Tilda Swinton intends to use the old Nairn cinema house for a festival comes as no surprise. It's been used a few times before and Ms Swinton ( who has some quite interesting domestic arrangements) has been dragging a mobile cinema round in the general vicinity all this past summer.

The report brought in that Charlie Chaplin used to take his holidays in Nairn and I was reminded of one summer when my uncle - long deceased - was staying in the same hotel with Charlie and Oona there at the same time.

I may say Charlie in his day had some interesting domestic arrangements too, and he lived very close to my parents near Vevey on the Lake of Geneva. After his death the Swiss authorities were scandalised that "terrorists" threatened to dig up his body for ransome. In true Chaplinesque style( he was famously stingy) his family made it abundantly clear the terrorists were welcome to keep him- which scandalised the Swiss even more.

But back to Nairn. My uncle saw his entire world through the bottom of a whisky glass, and had all sorts of ways to make you think he didn't drink. In a hotel he would be forever nipping back to get a handkerchief, whilst diverting to the bar for a triple. He only ever ordered a tomato juice in company ( I didn't count) and made the most enormous kerfuffle about Worcester sauce, celery salt and all sorts to divert attention.

So he and I were sitting in the bar, he with his tomato juice, me with my coke when in walked Charlie and Oona. As they sat down an ice bucket and bottle of champagne were brought.

" I think I know him," said my uncle.
" Yes it's Charlie Chaplin and his wife Oona"

"No, its not him - it's a chap I used to know in Edinburgh."

" I promise you it's Charlie Chaplin."

"No,no, I'll just go and speak to him - I'm sure he'll remember me."

Sighing, I got to my feet as he staggered across, sure I would need to rescue a tricky situation. One of the reasons Chaplin went to Nairn was because everyone left him alone.

By this time my uncle had started the "I'm sure I know you" routine, and Charlie, being most gracious, wasn't telling him to go away. Oona looked less happy.

By now my uncle was convinced it was his old mate Douglas from Portobello and kept saying he must remember such and such, as Charlie smilingly shook his head.

He eventually pointed at me.

" I know him. His parents live near me in Switzerland." Uncle pretty much ignored that, called the waiter over and ordered another bottle of champagne.

I finally managed to drag him away, and Charlie and Oona went in to dinner.

" Extraordinary," said my uncle. "Imagine wee Dougie going to live in Switzerland."

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Gay Black Bishop in Mercy Sex Dash for Duckling!

Actually, no, but I'm told editors of newspapers would give both their arms to be able to use that headline.
It has everything, it's just not entirely true in my case. You would have to leave out Gay,black,bishop,Sex, and you would get the correct headline.
Whilst walking the dog in the park today, beside the pond he snuffled what I took to be a stripey leaf, but which then moved.
It was a duckling. Apparently some misguided lady duck had had seven and this was the only one left, abandoned,cold and wet.
Scooping it up, I popped it into my glove to keep warm, then headed down to Hessilhead where I had called ahead and they had put on an incubator.
We are all keeping our fingers crossed for Ducky.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Dashing through the snow *

I'm always against stereotyping, and I think it is particularly unfair that Rock bands and their followers are thought of as drunken, drug laden wasters.
So with some trepidation I offer the following salutary tale.
A new boxed set of a particularly good band ( Snow Patrol, as you ask) goes on sale in a couple of days, and the emails all went out to the Eskimos ( I know, I know) telling them to get in early and buy it.
One particular chap opened the email, then closed it and went on with what he was doing.
10 minutes later he got an email saying his order had been processed and he would be ONE OF THE VERY FIRST to get the new album.
Now this young man was quite sure he had not clicked on buy or put his credit card into the system, and enquired of the Administrator how this could have happened.
The record label's customer service department called him up to explain he had put the order in a couple of months ago.
The administrator then received a somewhat sheepish email, apologising.
As it said: " I was so drunk I can't remember ordering it."
I think they should have a new motto: Snow Patrol - so good you'll never remember.
* I know that has some other potential connotations....

The best days of our lives..

This post in the Speccie referring to compulsory sex education for 15 year olds, reminded me of my own introduction to S-E-X.
When I went to School ( no, not Eton, the one Lord Peter Wimsey referred to as a Railway Junction) there was what was called the " New Boys Course".
This consisted of an induction course, which included where everything was ( stinks lab, swimming pool, where all the Houses were) but also included three half hour lessons on " Human Beings".
Of course, the boys who had already done the course puffed it up outrageously -" Yeah it's SEX!!!". So obviously we were all agog (we 13 year old rampaging hormonal spotted oiks) to get to them. There was never a cry off. In fact, one boy had missed the LAST lecture the year before and he was COMPELLED to attend the third and final talk in his second term.
Being schoolboys, there was of course an Omerta about what was actually said. Torture would never have opened our mouths.
We all trooped in for the first lecture. It was given by the biology master, whose name was Potty Falk. He started off staring above our heads in his dry voice, and began on plants. Then fish - and the lesson finished.
The second one began in the same way, with a brief resume of what had gone before - and went on to frogs.
And then the lesson ended.
The third and final lecture began with a complete resume of the first two lessons, with Potty being even more ethereal and starey into space. The boy who had missed the previous term's final fling was in the front row, riveted to every word.
Potty began to talk about rabbits. I particularly remember the bit about the female rabbit's scut ( tail) flattening up her back when the buck mounted her. Potty drew diagram's on the board. The clock ticked. Potty drew a picture of a doe's reproductive system.
The clock ticked. He drew a picture of the buck's reproductive system.
The clock ticked as the silence was absolute.
And then the bell rang for the end of the lesson.
And Potty looked at the clock and said:
" And it's pretty much the same for human beings"
Can't say I've ever tried it on a rabbit....

Jonah Too

I see GB put the hex on Everton, Fulham and Celtic last night....

This night that I lay down to sleep....*

Mortality, it is said, creeps up on you.
The call yesterday telling me that a dear and longstanding friend of mine had prostate cancer - and not in any benign way either - came as a rude shock, driving thoughts of my being still 18 out of my head.
Perhaps I'm 30 now.
My friend is having injections and will then undergo 7 weeks of radio therapy, 5 days a week. I'm afraid I slightly thought of Simon Gray, who decided not to have anything done, continued smoking manfully and lasted quite a number of years, despite having virtually killed himself off years before with alcohol.
The fact we are all living longer is, of course, partly to blame for the illnesses we oldies suffer. Never forget when Bismark first promulgated pensions for the elderly workers of the Prussian Railway system, he set it at 65, when the average mortality age was less than 60. It's also worth remembering that people worked ALL their lives in days gone by, and it's only relatively recently that we have had a period of ( s0-called) leisure as the shades draw in. I am, however, assured by friends in that position that they have never been busier.
I'm afraid I don't see myself as ever retiring, keeping at least some business activity going to keep an interest, but then, you never know - I might win the lottery tonight.
But back to my friend. I teased him that his present predicament was becuase he had had too many women in his life.
" Oh no," he said," It's clearly because I've had too few...."

*"... I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take"

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Mine and Thine

The re-emergence of trainspotters is to be applauded. I have noticed many hanging about on several stations, notably Carlisle and Preston. Perhaps it is a preferred North pastime - along with ferrets and pigeons. Stations are, I'm assured, one of the good places for bats.
Mrs. Lear has really taken to bats, and appropriately enough went to a bat conference on 31st October. This, I may say, had 119 delegate branches attending from all over Scotland, so I won't hear any scoffing, if you don't mind. I can't help but think of Jeremy Lloyd's Captain Beaky who had a friend, amongst others, who was known as Batty Bat ( "The bravest animals in the land Are Captain Beaky and his band.That's Timid Toad. Reckless Rat. Artful Owl and Batty Bat.March through the woodland Singing songs That tell how they have righted wrongs." Love it). We need stuff like that to cheer us up in these dark days.
I noted the other day that some august body had worked out that the banks were lending £215 billion a year less than the sum required to finance the economy. So it's no surprise it is still contracting. That £215 billion deficit will have to be eliminated before we return to stability and a stuttering growth. Mind you, if the Government had simply handed all the money they have given to the banks to the likes of us there would be no problem.As Keynes once remarked ( I think) the best way to restore an economy is to pay people to dig holes, fill them with bank notes, then get people to dig them up. In a sense, this is what Quantitative Easing is all about.
Although this time round the mistake was made to give the resulting money to the banks who promptly bought Government debt ( as they were pretty much forced to do by the stupid new rules which brought about this debacle in the first place.)
The Romanian's have what I would describe as a robust attitude to the present problems. They've never had a period of what I would call " You've never had it so good" so things are just a bit worse, rather than a LOT worse, and they were only a bit better so the difference is quite small.
They also have a different morality to things - if it's not nailed down, I can take it. And even if it is nailed down, maybe I can take it anyway.
When I was last there we drove along a road that a year ago had been a dirt track, but which now was tarmacked. As we got further from the main road, the surface was more and more broken up, until eventually there were only a few scattered complete patches.
On our way back we passed a horse drawn cart loaded with slabs of "reclaimed" tarmac. Clearly this valuable resource was being recycled, as everything is in Romania....