Romania


Time travel from chat

to chat in another time

anaesthesia


 

One of the most interesting, and far from unpleasant, things for me about having fairly major surgery is the experience of having a general anaesthetic. I had my latest yesterday and the magical experience prompted the above haiku.

I am chatting to a couple of nurses and an anaesthetist – chatty, cheerful, communicative – in a pre-op room at the Yorkshire Clinic. Then I time travel. I am in some other place, chatting to some other person – a recovery nurse. Did I take just a microsecond to make the journey? The clock says it is more like an hour. Magical!

Hernia repair

I was having a hernia on my left-hand side fixed (‘open’ surgery) following a similar procedure on the right almost exactly four months ago, which I described in detail in a subsequent post.

I will not describe the most recent procedure in such detail. Suffice it to say that despite having the team in Romania well prepared to deal with any urinary problem (see post mentioned above), this time I did not need it. The post-operative pain was (and still is until pain-killers kick in) quite a bit more severe than on the previous occasion, but I immediately felt (and, I am told, looked) far better and this time I was able to come home only four hours after surgery.

To me the left hernia felt smaller than the right but the surgeon (Mr R B Khan) told me that it was, if anything, larger and the bladder was pushing through, which probably gave rise to the pee problem. That it is now back where it belongs will probably help with the other – prostate – problem too.

Romania trip

I hope that feeling so much better means I will be well recovered enough to make the intended major trip to Romania in the camper, and tackle Fagarasanul, in the summer.

The Romanian doctor who attended me last time – Dr Aurel Sbarcea –  was not on duty, doing his alternate fortnightly stint in Romania, nor did I see the Romanian nurse, Adriana, this time.

But, again, I cannot praise the staff at the NHS Hernia Clinic at the Yorkshire Clinic enough. They are simply great!

Lofty, VW camper, at the Cow & Calf rocks, Ilkley, 10 minutes from home

Lofty at the Cow & Calf, 10 minutes from home

First hurdle on the track to the planned long trip to Romania in the summer has been successfully jumped; Lofty, our 1972 ‘crossover’ VW Bay camper got his MOT last week after being laid up for several months due to my health problems.

He started (on LPG) easily enough; the brakes had seized but not seriously so this was not a major problem; he needed quite a bit of welding underneath though (chassis legs, outriggers and one inner sill). The front, including a ‘new’ beam, was done last year but the floor under the passenger seat needed a pretty large replacement welded in. All done by Frazer at Wormalds in Otley. He now just needs his annual LPG system check (by Gasure in Chester, who did the conversion; worth the trip to get Steve who really understands LPG and VW campers) to ensure he’s fit enough to make the 6,000 km (4,000 mile) plus round trip.

Transfagarasanul

We hope to ‘do’ Transfagarasanul, which the Top Gear team dubbed the best driving experience in the world).

Part of Transfagarasanul, the trans-Fagaras mountains highway, over 100 miles long in all

Part of Transfagarasanul, the trans-Fagaras mountains highway, over 100 miles long in all

The serpentine route across the Fagaras mountains stretches about 90km (60 miles) and reaches a height of 2042 metres (6693 feet).  This is not the highest road in Romania, that’s the Transalpina which goes up to 2145 metres (7050 feet), but we will not have the time to do the two.

I’m hoping for some good weather in May (looking out today on a deluged Tour de Yorkshire route not more than 200 yards from our sitting room window) so, with no undercover space, I can tart him up a bit. A little filler for a few bumps and scrapes on the outside then a couple of rollered-on coats of paint, a good clean inside, new pads and covers for the seats and, if there’s time, some paint in there too. I’ve got a few more flowers and butterflies for him too.

It’s a race against time: I have surgery again on 29 May but, based on the recovery time from the previous one at the end of January, I should be just about fit enough for the trip starting at the end of July but certainly any physical work on cars needs to be completed before the end of May.

Classic Mini

Mini - 1975 classic miniMeanwhile, Lofty’s younger sister Mini has been behaving well and last Friday got a dose of clean good oil and new filter after a week of running on cheap supermarket stuff with a new filter to clean out her innards (automatic gearbox). The engine steady bushes were replaced with ‘posh’ polyurethane ones from Moss (super pig to get in) so the engine is not now shaking around but that has put the noise up quite a bit.

A new filter mount to front cover gasket with the new O ring with the oil filter has completely cured the oil leak which was annoying my neighbours (communal car park) and now there’s not a drop from her overnight, hot or cold.

If she’s lucky, she’ll get another lick of paint too.

Apology

Sorry it’s been a while since I posted here. A lot to catch up on after the hospital visits and recuperation. I hope to post more frequently in the coming weeks and during the Romania trip.

Picture of lambToday – 26 February – is Fairy Tale Day so I thought I’d try to tell you a fairy tale. Although it is Romanian, called Miorita (I don’t have the Romanian characters but it’s pronounced mee-oh-ree-tsa), the little ewe lamb, I’ll try to tell it in English. My very free – not literal – translation (I would not attempt to versify it) is based on a version collected by Vasile Alecsandri (1821 – 1890, Romanian poet, playwright, politician and diplomat who came from the Moldavian city of Bacau, a little south of where I spent most of my time in Romania).

It’s not really a ‘fairy tale’, it’s an ancient ballad which, when I thought I understood it after several years in Romania and knew the language reasonably well, I began to say “Understand Miorita and you can understand Romanians”. Some Romanians may say that is presumptuous, but I believe it to be true though perhaps I should say “Understand Miorita and you can understand Moldavians”.

Moldavia is the part of Romania in which I stayed most of my over 11 years there; if I have a favourite part of this wonderful country it is Moldavia, though my specific favourite is the Bucovina, where some of the more fragile aspects of Moldavians have been strengthened by influences from the western side of the Carpathian mountains.


Bride and groom with marriage crowns during a Romanian wedding service

“Tell them I went to marry a princess”


Miorita

Once upon a time there were three shepherds, each tending their flock on the plain below the lower slopes of hills which seemed to lead to heaven. One of the shepherds was Moldavian, one Transylvanian and one Vrancean (from three parts of ancient Romania).

The Moldavian had more flocks with the most beautiful sheep, with long horns. He had the best, well-trained horses and the most ferocious hounds; in short he was the richest of the three.

The Transylvanian and Vrancean were envious. In their minds, and planning together, they intended to ambush the Moldavian, and kill him, when the sun went down.

Meanwhile, one small grey-dappled ewe lamb had bleated loudly and continuously for three days, refusing to eat.

The Moldavian shepherd asked her: “Don’t you like the grass? Why do you bleat so long and loud? Are you too sick to eat, sweet little lamb?”

She answered: “Dear master, take the flock into that far field, where there is shade for you.  Call a large hound, a fierce, fearless one, strong and loyal, to be near you. When the daylight is gone the Transylvanian and Vrancean intend to murder you”.

The shepherd said to her: “If I am to die here, tell the Vrancean and Transylvanian to let my bones lie somewhere near, by the sheepfold so that my sheep are close by and I can hear my hounds. Put beside me a small beech pipe with its soft, sweet sound, a small pipe of bone which has a loving tone, and one of elderwood, good but fiery-tongued. Then, when the winds blow and play on them all my listening sheep would come near and weep”.

“Do not tell them how I died. Say that I could not stay but went to marry a princess, the most beautiful princess in the world. Tell them that at my wedding a bright star fell, the sun and moon came down to hold my marriage crown. My guests were trees – firs and maples. The high mountains were my priests, my fiddlers the birds, my torchlights the stars”.

“However, if you should meet somewhere my little, old mother with her girdle of wool, crossing the plains with tears flowing from her eyes, asking everyone she meets whether they had seen, had known, her fine shepherd son, slim as a willow tree with a face as bright as milk foam and a small moustache like a young ear of wheat, with hair as black as the feathers of a crow, and small black eyes that glow like ripe sloe berries, have pity and tell her that I have gone to marry a noble princess on the far hills there which lead to heaven”.

“But do not tell my old mother that a bright star fell for my bridal night, that firs and maples were my guests or that the high mountains were my priests, my fiddlers the birds and my torches the stars”.


I have stood on those hills which lead to heaven and can assure you that they do.

Snapshot from jumping meerkats video clip

What’s this got to do with hernia repair? Read on.

Last Friday I had ‘open’ hernia repair surgery. Subsequently house bound, even chair bound though decreasingly so, I have decided to set down my thoughts/experience with the operation as they may be of use to others facing a similar procedure. I also want to record the luck of discovering a Romanian doctor on duty at the time the NHS had deemed I should be sent home. I have to admit that I was somewhat anxious before the event, and searching for advice on the likely post-op situation, how long to recover, etc, much of the information was contradictory. With this background I had been warned by everyone from hernia repair surgeon to most acquaintances who had had the op that I should expect severe pain and to be ‘out of action’ for quite a time, even surprise from Germany that it was to be ‘open’ rather than ‘keyhole’ surgery and that I was to be discharged home the same day. I consoled myself that the pain could not possibly be as bad as that experienced last year, first waiting several hours for an ambulance then for quite a while in A & E with bladder retention; then, by the time a catheter was in, I was pretty much lunatic. (more…)

New Year vies with Easter as the most important celebration in the Romanian calendar, the latter being the most important religious celebration of course. New Year’s Eve, Revelion, is an important date in our home as it is Petronela’s birthday – so ‘open house’ in accord with Romanian tradition. All are an ‘excuse’ for a magnificent feast which would please any Yorkshireman. Our tiny flat was stuffed, as were our bellies, with traditional Romanian New Year dance and celebration music as a background (see video clips links at the end of this post).

Carp skeleton

Eaten – crap remains ;) !

(more…)

Christmas shopping in Leeds yesterday; it’s a great city to shop in. I find shopping on line no fun at all.

Carp for New Year (Revelion)

A handsome 1.5kg carp bought in Leeds Kirkgate market for New Year's eve dinner

A handsome 1.5kg carp bought in Leeds Kirkgate market for New Year’s eve dinner

Although I did a bit of Christmas shopping it was mainly to begin to provision for New Year as it is Petronela’s birthday (so ‘open house’ in accord with Romanian tradition) on New Year’s Eve (Revelion for Romanians, and as big a celebration as for the Scots)  and we have Romanian friends coming to stay. (more…)

Tochitura MoldoveneascaBusy times: having ‘retired’ from my part-time job at the end of October, I launched my new business Extraordinary Writing on Small Business Saturday, 6 December. More on this below. More ‘spare time’ seems to mean that I’ve been roped in to more voluntary activities in my village, Menston in Wharfedale, Yorkshire. And, doing more of the everyday cooking, last night I made something worthy of mention I think – Tochitura Moldoveneasca – first time I’ve attempted it; again, more below.

Voluntary activities – eggs to iPads

I was delighted to get a £500 grant from Lloyds Bank Community Fund to set up a project which has two principal aims: to help ameliorate the loneliness of many elderly people; to integrate more young people in our village with the wider community. The £500 will buy a couple of iPads and cover other small expenses for a year.

I call the project ‘Teaching grandmother – from eggs to iPads‘. A small team of youngsters will teach elderly people first how to Skype on the iPad so they can talk to distant relatives and friends; second stage will be how to use search engines; third stage will be how to shop on line. At each session each youngster will have two elderly ‘pupils’ (I know of the advantages of learning in pairs from my English teaching days; also, my time installing ‘obsolete’ donated computers in Romania and teaching teachers and pupils how to use them gives me a good grounding even if the technology is, let’s say, a little more advanced! We didn’t even have Windows in the Romanian schools then, let alone an Apple OS).

I did apply for enough to buy six iPads but the final stage was a public vote on the four projects short-listed. At the time I should have been campaigning for votes I was pretty seriously ill so couldn’t do it. We came fourth. However, we’ll set up as a ‘pilot’ project and if all goes well look for more funding to expand in the future.

Tochitura Moldoveneasca

If you subscribe to the ‘healthy eating’ bibles look away now!

Principal ingedients for the tochitura: belly pork, smoked sausage, smoked back fat, onion and garlic. The sprigs of (Romanian) thyme are my own contribution to the recipe.

Principal ingredients for the tochitura: belly pork, smoked sausage, smoked back fat, onion and garlic. The sprigs of (Romanian) thyme are my own contribution to the recipe.

One of the best meals I ever had in Romania, more than once, was in a school canteen – in a high school where I taught English and where I met my wife – Liceul Mihail Kogalniceanu in Miroslava village, Iasi ‘county’. I’ve eaten this dish many times elsewhere but it has never compared and that’s not surprising because if you look it up in a recipe book or on line there seems to be little agreement about the recipe. Many times it is made to end up as more like a kind of stew or casserole, but it should be (in my opinion) very nearly ‘dry’ – just a little zeama (juice).

Because my Romanian in-laws brought two important ingredients when they visited, I decided to have a go based on how I thought the school cook might have done it. I was delighted that it turned out to be pretty good (though not quite up to the standard of the ‘school dinner’).

An important feature is that there should be plenty of fat in the meat, either by using a ‘fatty’ cut (eg belly pork) or by mixing lean (eg shoulder) with fatty. Of course, the better tasting the pork the better tasting the tochitura; it took me months to find good tasty pork in the UK. Two other important ingredients are good smoked sausage and smoked ‘slanina’ (back fat). The latter two, home made and smoked, were brought by my mother-in-law. Other than that there are just onion and garlic, salt and pepper. It helps to have garlic from Botosani in the far north east of Romania – one clove will do the job of ten bought in the UK (and has an even better taste).

The finished tochitura, with mamaliga, fried eggs and cheese (Feta in the absence of Romanian fermented sheep's cheese).

The finished tochitura, for two, with mamaliga, fried eggs and cheese (Feta in the absence of Romanian fermented sheep’s cheese).

So, the smoked back fat is sauteed a little, the chunks of meat added, browned then water added. Simmer until the meat is tender. Add the sliced onions and garlic, salt and pepper. Simmer for another ten minutes. Now I had to be inventive to get the almost dry, caramel covered meat I remember from Miroslava. So, I removed the meat, browned it again in a very hot pan with a bit of the fat. Skimmed the remaining liquid (a lot of fat now to be removed), reduced it to a thin layer in the pan then added back the re-browned meat.

It should be served with mamaliga (firm cornmeal ‘porridge’), a fried egg and fermented sheep’s cheese (cas framantat). I didn’t have the latter but my wife doesn’t like it anyway so she had cottage cheese and I had crumbled Feta cheese (vaguely similar). Pickled peppers, cucumbers and green tomatoes (gogonele) are a perfect accompaniment.

My new business – Extraordinary Writing

Having ‘retired’ from employment, and loving to write, I’ve decided to try to add to my meagre pension by writing, specialising in writing news pieces and features for companies or other organisations (for placement in the Press or house magazines) or writing, editing and producing newsletters and house magazines.

I’m not sure how I had the audacity to choose the name I did, with so many ‘extraordinary writers’ among the bloggers I read regularly, but I did.

First step was to make a simple website and I made this ‘live’ on Small Business Saturday – ie last Saturday. If you would like to have a look at it go to:

http://extraordinarywriting.net

I had landed my first job, to write, edit and produce a regular newsletter, by Monday :) .

 

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