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diaryRomanians in general are quite superstitious; Petronela is no exception and with that in mind the number 17 has become pretty significant for us. So, she assures me that the coming year will be good for us, because:

  • It’s 2017
  • We live at number 17
  • In Romania we lived at number 17
  • We’ll celebrate our 17th anniversary this year
  • P was born in ’71 (deci 17 reversed!)
  • Whenever P wins on Lotto, only ever a small amount so far, including New Year’s Eve, her selection includes the number 17

There are possibly a few more but I can’t bring them to mind for the moment.

Romania, Romanian doctors and medication

Towards the end of 2016 the year became better as a very poor prognosis for me earlier in the year was revised to be much better and new medication (thank God for the NHS; I’m told it costs around £2,000 a month!) has resulted in me feeling better than for two or three years (though I think that 6 weeks of Romanian summer and food had something to do with that too! I’d add to that, odd as it may seem, ending up in A&E my first day in Romania, when the wonderful Romanian doctors identified why long journeys were causing me a problem, so now I can take preventative steps).

I had a lot of problems getting in the ‘Christmas spirit’ last year, with the slaughter and starvation of children in Syria and the Yemen, to mention just two, let alone the events in France and Germany. I’ll probably return to this in future posts.

To end on a happier note, I can do no better than end with my New Year’s post on what I think is the best social media site (I’m excepting WordPress), blipfoto, when I ‘blipped’ a photo of our ‘musical corner’, where the tv sits. I returned to this wonderful community, which has none of the ‘crap’ so often evident on Facebook, just before Christmas after a long health-enforced absence (it’s based on keeping a photo diary). I don’t privatise my posts on this so if you’re interested you can probably find ‘realgrumpytyke‘ there.

The world stops for Vienna (my 1 January ‘blip’)

vienna99-17

Little did Petronela’s younger sister (RIP) know what she was starting when she insisted that I, then a volunteer teacher staying alone in the school hostel in 1999, be invited to spend New Year’s Day with the family. We watched the Vienna New Year’s concert together, P and I married about 18 months later, and we have watched the Vienna concert together every year since that first time.

The concert combines two of my great loves, so-called ‘classical music’ and classical ballet, a love affair probably begun when I was about 7 years old, being taken to live performances at Bradford’s St. George’s Hall and the Alhambra by my grandmother after years of listening on the ‘steam radio’ and wind-up gramophone.

I think there was less ballet this year but it was great to see flashbacks to earlier years in this year’s concert, including ‘our year’, and to see students from the Vienna State Opera Ballet Academy dancing among the audience.

Thankfully no CCTV in our flat to catch P and I dancing/clapping to the Rodetzsky March in our pyjamas (the concert did start as early as 11.15am!).

PS. I see that unthinking I slipped in a word of ‘the other language’ – for me Romanian – above. I’ll leave it. We often do that in our conversations as I often cannot think quickly of the English word and P cannot think of the Romanian one! So our conversations are often a garble of the two languages. Very confusing for eavesdroppers.

I’ve always disliked Facebook. After resisting it for years I finally succumbed when teenagers in a project I ran in the village where I live said it was the best way to communicate with them. For this I created a private group. Later our local writers’ club created a private FB group and that remains very useful.

I have found limited use of Twitter useful too – letting me know of new posts from blogger friends who do not have a ‘follow’ possibility on their non-Wordpress sites but ‘boost’ their posts on Twitter, and to let friends who do not use WordPress, and do not wish to follow by email, of my new blog posts.

But the love affairs with FB and Twitter, if they ever existed, are over. On the other hand, my love for radio has regrown over the past few months. The following rundown refers, of course, to when I am home alone on weekdays.

Twitter

After signing up to FB and Twitter I was rapidly bombarded by ‘suggestions’  for new groups/people to ‘follow’. In Twitter particularly posts appear regularly from organisations or people I have not ‘chosen’. Almost never are these of interest. On the other hand I did sign up to several favourite musicians but most of these are just promotional rather than containing interesting information. Then there are ‘friends’ who rarely post anything original, they just ‘share’ posts from others. Again, these are rarely of interest. In Twitter particularly annoying are multiple, lots, of posts per day, and many repeats; TES (more sensibly named in the past Times Educational Supplement), which I chose to follow because my wife is a teacher, is really irritating in the respect. It’s no longer followed but I continue to follow GuardianTeach. (In the past I unfollowed quite a few WordPress bloggers who blogged multiple times a day and bunged up my reader and/or inbox).

Facebook

As far as FB is concerned, it seems often to bring out the very worst in people. One recent example was prompted by a mildly contentious post on the WordPress site/blog I do for the village in which I live. It concerned an organisation run by someone with whom I am regularly in contact; in fact only a few days before she had emailed me for some help, which I had given. However, when she did not like the post on the village site did she comment there or approach me directly? No, she posted her objection on a village FB page and, of course, this was followed by a host of FBers joining in.

The village FB page, despite the pinned post asking that posts be limited to “Anything that adds life to the village”, probably has more that do not do this than do, and so many are barely disguised advertising. Many have nothing at all to do with the village other than they may have been written by someone who lives in it but often promote events, and businesses elsewhere (and of course self-promotion is rife). I’m only too aware of the problems for the admin to control this. 

Going to ‘home’, the reader is littered with ‘suggested posts’ and advertisements which are almost never of interest, and other ads are often promoting ‘scams’.

Messenger

Something I do like is ‘Messenger’. Very useful for short communications with friends and ‘friends’, including my wife. It’s become even more useful as free WiFi has been introduced on local bus and train services. The telephone and texting have become almost redundant!

Drastic prune underway

I’m sure that anyone running a business should be using FB and Twitter but I do not so they have become more and more irritating and time wasting. Recently I decided to do a drastic prune of both. I am now in the process reducing ‘follows’ to a small number of friends (in the original sense) and an even smaller number of organisations with which I am involved in some way. I’ve not yet completed the job but already my daily FB and Twitter trawl is quicker and much more relevant. One of the first to go was the village FB group mentioned.

Radio

On the other hand a love of radio way in the past has been revived. It’s not perfect, but so much less superficial than tv. The few minute bites on tv usually leave me with a host of unanswered questions; more often than not a radio programme tackling the same subject satisfies my information need.

Classic FM

Most mornings I have Classic FM on the radio; I deliberately did not say I ‘listen’ to it!’ I have found a perfect low volume at which the music is a pleasant background but the majority of presenters’ interjections can be ignored and, even more important, so can the advertisements the perpetrators of which seem to have the view that the Classic FM audience is either senile or stupid.The station has improved a lot recently by running fewer of the assinine ads and also by airing the musical pot-boilers less frequently and introducing me to many new pieces and even previously unknown, to me, composers. I have found that I have a volume control in my head which I can wind up if something interesting or I wish to stop and listen to comes on.

I find the women presenters far more acceptable than the males with one exception, Aled Jones (and every time his rendition of Handel’s ‘Have you heard my lady’ is aired I wind up my in-ear volume control to experience the exquisite tingling in the spine which his voice and amazingly clear diction always provoke). 

At 1pm I switch to BBC4 to catch up on what to the media is the most important news, following which I get a host of facts and opinions on everything from gardening (even though I do not have a garden) to finances, books, science, medicine and the tortuous thinking behind Round Britain Quiz. I don’t switch off the Archers though I might use the 15min intermission to do some urgent small job. Although the 45 minute drama at 2.15pm is of variable quality it is always interesting to me as a would-be writer. I may make it until 5pm at which point I usually turn my attention to preparing the evening meal, often a bit before that.

Of course another advantage of radio over tv is that you can often do other things while listening, as I usually do. When the radio is in ‘background’ mode this includes writing, as now.

TV

At 6pm on goes the tv for the news as we sit down to our evening meal; I stick with BBC 1 mainly because I like to watch Look North, especially if my three favourite presenters – Lara Rostrom, Charlotte Leeming and Tanya Arnold – are on air. Lara is a fairly recent addition (a year?) but Charlotte and Tanya are old hands and whatever else I just enjoy watching the professionalism of all three (Tanya is a surprise as I’m not generally interested in sport!).

Back to blogging

Culling FB and Twitter should, I hope, allow more opportunity for blogging, both reading blogs – usually so much less superficial than FB and T – and writing them – so much more enjoyable!

Playing the trout. In the hot June sun, the fly arches towards a cooler spot, suspended for a moment then alighting, still yet ominous. Only the midges bite, swooping again and again on bare skin. The daisies behind smile at the sun, a white army, each bearing his shield of gold. Buttercups spread their delicious gold. No rod here, no hook with barb nor tortured fish. Just Schubert’s quintet, spilling with joy from an iPad.


Some of you will know of my love for the ‘traditional’ haiku, the discipline of writing to a very short set format – 5-7-5 syllables – to communicate a thought or feeling.

Recently I was introduced, by Becky whose blog is called Evening Scribbles, to another format which appeals to me for similar reasons: to write a story or introductory stand-alone paragraph of exactly 75 words. They may be published, if accepted, on the website: http://www.paragraphplanet.com/

I have just submitted my first, though have yet to hear whether it will be published on the site. It was prompted by seeing a neighbour loading his car to go fishing shortly before I ventured downstairs to sit in the sun for the first time since my recent surgery, where I wrote the above 75 words. 

Fascinating to read the stats produced by the WordPress monkeys for views etc of my blogs in 2014. I had not realised just what an effect my bout of ill health had had, especially on my ‘hobby’ blog – that on classic cameras and photography and film. However, I was delighted to see that, for the most part, I had managed to maintain a reasonable presence on the blog/website I do for the village in which I live; as a service to the local community, albeit voluntary, I guess I unknowingly gave that a  lot of priority.

Here are the main points:

menstonvillagewharfedale.com  (An alternative Menston village website. Lovely place, lovely people, in Yorkshire of course)

Lofty in the Wharfe Valley38,000 views; 419 pictures published; busiest day, after I published a post about a local school concert dedicated to Nelson Mandella, had over 1,300 views. This was exceeded over a weekend when we had a classic car show in the village and had several dozen pictures from it on the blog. Almost 100% of the pictures on the blog over the year were taken specifically for and uniquely published on it. (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 🙂 .

 

A recent post on a forum of UK freelancers to which I subscribe asked “Why do we write?”. Not surprisingly, given the context, most answered “To make money” but many answered with something like “To shout about something”.

The author at a computer with some of his writing on the screenI can associate with the latter response but not with the first, even though for much of my life my income has derived to a great extent from my ability to write, either as a journalist or on the other side of the fence in marketing communications. And now, having recently retired from my part time job, I am about to start up a business offering a writing service, for money (to be launched on ‘Small Business Saturday’, 6 December, with yet another WordPress website).

Nevertheless, although I may find myself writing blogs for pay (and did so, indirectly, in my previous employment) it is not why I post on the three WordPress personal blogs I run. Moreover, having been unable to post for a period  and, even now, less frequently, for a variety of reasons including ill health, I feel guilty for the omission. Why is that? 

This set me thinking again about the question “Why do we blog?”. Some do it for money but not, I think, the majority. What is more, it seems that for the majority it is the subject of the post which is of interest, rather than the writing itself. So it does not seem to be driven by the same urge as that for the so-called ‘creative writer’.

Some obvious examples can be seen in two categories of blog which I follow. First, photography blogs, which often (the most popular?) have very little text, if any, but when there is it is more often about the subject of the photo(s) or the technique of photography, rather than writing for its own sake. The second example is blogging about food and cooking.

Of course, as these are addressing two of my hobbies I enjoy following them but some, and many more texts in print, I read only because I enjoy the satisfaction I get from reading excellent writing.  An obvious example here is a poetry blog but there are a few bloggers I follow who write about their everyday lives and the pleasure reading them derives not from what they write but from how they write it. The subject is irrelevant.

I can give an example of reading for the writing from my local daily paper, the Yorkshire Post. With the exception of my ‘classic’ vehicles and a few super cars, motor vehicles do not interest me at all, yet I look forward to reading the paper’s motoring feature writer, Fred Manby, because he  writes well. He occasionally digresses into a restaurant review and I read it with pleasure for the same reason as I’ve little interest now in eating in restaurants.

Returning to my opening question, I have concluded that the majority of bloggers do not post because they enjoy writing for its own sake, but with some other motive.

So, why do you blog?

 

Menston and Wilberforce have kept me away; many apologies for the long absence. First of all I was busy night and day (literally) getting a much-needed completely new website to its Beta form for the charity (Wilberforce Trust) for which I work, so it could be viewed by all the 70 or so staff for their feedback by the time I return from annual leave in early September. I’ll take into account the feedback then it can go live, hopefully that month. It’s a WordPress.org site so a lot more work than these wonderful free ‘wordpress.com’ sites. 

Menston village blog; screenshot with first post

Top of the new Menston village blog showing the first post

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