Eastern Europe


lettersTrying to get back into regular ‘personal’ blogging I have the dilemma of what to blog about – skipping from food and cooking to another hobby, eg photography, writing, classic cars, or varied hobby horses, etc, as I used to do – or stick to one topic, as advised by the blogging gurus. I’ve decided on the former, for the moment. It suits me. I am working up to a cooking one soon, in which I’ll be asking for advice from the many brilliant cooks I follow, but today here’s something completely different, though it was brought on by a guest post from Joanne Gennard on the Ilford blog ‘Best in Black and White’.

Memories brought flooding back

When my mother died several years ago I found that she had kept letters which I wrote to her during my time in Romania. Many friends have suggested I should turn them into a book; though I wasn’t sure about that, I did promise myself that ‘one day’ I would save them in another, more widely accessible, form by scanning them and storing them also digitally. I have never looked at them until the past few days and, when I found them, assumed that she had kept all the letters, from March 1993 to mid-2004. Having recently been reminded forcefully that I am not immortal I decided to do something about it. Having read about a quarter of the letters, I’m so glad I have started the job: there is so much that I had forgotten which I’ve been delighted to be reminded of – eg, experiences with the many children I taught, for example the ‘Bunnies’, a delightful special needs class, pictured on the right (some of them have featured before, in a post on 27 January 2013) and even experiences at the start of my relationship with my wife leading up to New Year’s Eve (her birthday) 1999. We married in 2000.

ltr2-toner_ed

Not a letter but included with a letter to show my mother something about my internet projects and show her a picture of a class of delightful special needs children I worked with. I could not print colour then so stuck on a colour photo.

Sorting through the packet a few days ago, I found that the earliest letter is from over four years after I arrived in Romania, when they began to be written on ‘computer’ and printed. The many before, written by hand on what I seem to remember were called ‘aerograms’ are not there, not one. Why the printed ones were saved, but the handwritten ones not, I cannot explain.

Simple OCR

One of the reasons I had never got around to the task was that I thought I would have to transcribe from handwriting. No excuse now, I thought, as OCR (optical character recognition) should make the job easier. I’ve also found that it can be done in a much more relaxed manner than using a scanner and computer, by using an iPad and a great free ‘app’ called ‘Doc Scanner + OCR’. It takes a while to figure out how to work it but once that hurdle is jumped it is very good. It is not happy when the printing to be scanned is light, ie a pale grey, but really excellent when the type is a strong black. I’m still working on that, and on getting reasonably even lighting across the page being scanned.

scansetup_edFor my first attempts I just put a sheet of typing on the floor and handheld the iPad over it. It was quite difficult to hold the iPad steady enough and parallel to the sheet so I’ve now made a simple jig by carving up a suitably sized cardboard box (pictured). The zoom slider in the latest iPad OS camera is a big help in getting the image to the optimum size.

Once scanned and converted to text, I’m copying it and pasting into another free app called Pages, in which it is easy to edit (the OCR conversion is good but never perfect). Pages is another really great app which I use a lot, for everything from writing letters to drafting blog posts. Finally I’m backing it up to Dropbox and my ‘Personal Cloud’ as a pdf. When I’ve completed all the letters I’ll print them out.

I might even make a book 😉 .

Lofty, closer to home at the Cow & Calf rocks, Ilkley

Lofty, 10 mins from home at the Cow & Calf rocks, Ilkley

The hoped for trip to Romania gets ever closer; a few health and other hurdles yet to overcome but increasing optimism has prompted me to create a Facebook ‘group’ where I can keep a running diary during the trip. The group is ‘public’ so anyone can see it, but only I can post on it – that makes sense as it is intended to be a diary of the trip. Of course anyone will be able to ‘like’ and ‘comment’ and I hope they will. I’m hoping too that I might be inspired to create a few more haiku too.

The Facebook group is called Lofty2Romania – ‘Lofty’ (1972 VW crossover Bay) is, of course, camper’s name (given by the previous owner due to his high top). He has a standard 1,600cc air-cooled engine but has an LPG conversion, done by Steve Shaw at Gasure, just inside Wales the other side of Chester. Definitely recommended; the only downside is losing the storage under the rock and roll bed, mostly taken up by the LPG tank.

I may do the occasional post on the new Facebook group as things progress towards 26 July. I’m hoping Lofty doesn’t get too excited as although he knows the Yorkshire Dales, N Yorks moors, Yorkshire coast and the Lakes very well and has been as far as Cornwall (with us), he’s probably a bit jealous of his little sister ‘Mini’ (1975 classic mini) who took us to Romania and back, camping, in 2006 without a minute’s trouble, even taking hub-cap deep potholes in the Rodney mountains in her stride (I did this same trans-Romania route on a push-bike in 1994; no chance now!).

Mini

Mini - my 1975 classic miniMini will probably have a bit of treatment while we are away; her original suspension cones are rather hard after 40 years and the state of Britain’s roads now, and those ridiculous speed humps, cause her (and me) a lot of agro, especially while recovering from surgery twice this year (I’d probably have been able to drive her much earlier had the suspension been softer). I’ve only been able to drive her for about a week and have yet to drive Lofty since the surgery at the end of May.

picture showing some of the hairpin bends on the trans-fagaras highwayLofty will have to do even better than Mini in some ways though we don’t expect potholes on the trans-fagaras highway, by which we intend to cross the Fagaras mountains, visiting blogger friends we’ve never met in person.

Paint, seat, exhaust, petrol pump and …

At the moment Lofty’s still getting some new clothes (ie coats of paint – rollered). He’ll probably get a few more flowers and butterflies too. The driver’s seat needs new seat pad, back pad and cover; in fact he’s needed them for years now but maybe sitting more or less on the springs is not a good idea for a 4,000+ mile journey. For the past year I’ve not been able to do it because of the health issues.

He’ll be making a trip to Gasure soon to have a new exhaust fitted and while there have a dicky petrol pump replaced. It may not always be possible to find an LPG station on the trip though hopefully most of the time as he’s much more economical on LPG. I reckon I’ll need about 1,000 litres of LPG during the trip; it wouldn’t be much less petrol at almost twice the price!

Harwich to Holland

At the moment the intention is to go via Harwich to the Hook of Holland. Hull would be great, as I’ve done before but not with the camper, but the cost is ridiculous now. A leisurely trip down to Essex then a sleep before taking an early morning ferry, at about 1/3 of the price, makes sense to me. Anyway, I love being on the sea so a daytime sailing is much more attractive.

Back via Weimar?

To Romania we will be taking more or less the same route as with Mini 9 years ago – down the Rhine through Germany then Austria and Hungary. However, I’m hoping to come back via Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic then what was East Germany where I was last some 40 years ago. I really want to visit Weimar though it will not be the same. I vaguely remember playing a piano said to have been played by Liszt and Wagner (was this at the Elephant, now a top luxury hotel, or the Erbprinz – now no more?) and sitting at a table, certainly the Elephant, at which Hitler was said to have held meetings with the Nazi hierarchy. Not in a museum; they were just there.

Wish us luck to be able to make a start on 26 July.

 

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.

Grumpytyke is back, I hope fairly frequently, after a long absence, and I’m trying to decide whether to resume with the wide ranging subjects which I wrote about before – Romania, VW campers, classic minis, haiku, Yorkshire and food and cooking, and a few more as the mood takes me – or to limit myself to one or two themes. That might be difficult for me.

I just ploughed through emails going back to February this year – helluvalot of spam – and was glad to see a lot of ‘old friends’ still posting, though some seem to have disappeared in recent months. Apart from one short post in February ‘explaining’ my absence I haven’t really posted or looked at emails for about a year.

Me

Much of my absence has been due to a major health problem. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, had my first ever stays in hospital and spent a while with tubes and bags limiting my movement. Hopefully it’s under control for the moment. I might have something to say about the wonderful overworked nursing staff in the NHS, but the often abysmal administration, management and systems, in a future post. (more…)

Icon of Saint Dimitrie

This icon of Saint Dimitrie, Dimitrios (Greek) or Dumitru (Romanian), is one of several in our home

Today is Saint Dimitrie’s day, so also ‘my’ day as Dimitrie is my name too, given to me when I was baptised on 26th October. In the Eastern Orthodox Tradition, the name day corresponds to the day on which a saint “fell asleep”, or died (Gregorian calendar).

I was given the name in the Orthodox church of ‘Stefan cel Mare Domnesc (the Lord’s Church of Stephen the Great), Iasi, the church I attended when I lived in that Romanian city (and the church in which I was married).

Although in Romania the saint is known as Dumitru, I chose the Russian version – hence Dimitrie – and that is how my several Orthodox priest friends, and some other friends, call me.

When I was in Romania people would call at my home on this day and share a drink and a snack, or even a celebration meal. Now, in the UK, I receive email messages and ‘iconograms’ from friends and relatives in Romania, especially from my Godparents – Godfather Vasile, now a mathematics lecturer in an Australian university, and Godmother Gabriela. (more…)

I don’t have a lot of time for blogging at the moment – the weather is superb for walking and photography but unfortunately that means it is also ideal for some much needed ‘tender loving care’ for Lofty, our beloved VW camper. However, having just cooked and eaten the obligatory full English breakfast I thought I’d use the 15 min ‘digestion’ pause to get this off.

The Romanians are almost uniquely able to have a joke on themselves and, being far better generally educated than the majority of people coming out of UK schools, are able to do it with a wit and substance sadly lacking in much of what we see from British commentators. I just love the poster campaign launched by the Romanian paper Gandul (‘The Thought?) in response to that from the Guardian. The posters are in English so English speakers can understand them even if the accompanying text is in Romanian.

http://www.gandul.info/news/why-don-t-you-come-over-raspunsul-gandul-la-campania-britanica-nu-veniti-in-anglia-update-10528548

So here are some of the Romanian poster words, each of which has a postscript “Why don’t you come over. We may not like Britain but you’ll love Romania”. There are many more gems. (more…)

Sunday 3 Feb 2013. Another multi-tasking day, I’m starting to write this while I cook the obligatory Sunday ‘traditional full English’ breakfast and scanning a film to put some pictures here; I felt I must do this post after reading a recent ‘News’ item from WordPress about using internet in teaching:

http://en.blog.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/educators-on-wordpress/

The special 'Allstars' project room from we did internet teaching projects using first one, later (here) two, 'obsolete' laptops. This is 'Allstar' Daniela with me, 1994

The special ‘Allstars’ project room at industrial High School No.1, Burdujeni, Suceava, Romania, from which we did internet teaching projects using first one, later (here) two, ‘obsolete’ laptops. This is ‘Allstar’ Daniela with me, 1994

I think I might have been a bit of a pioneer in this field; the teachers in UK, Canada and USA with whom I did the projects in 1993/94 certainly were. Oddly enough, I had referred briefly to my email projects for teaching English only a few days ago when I did a post about how I became an English teacher in Romania. (more…)

Because I have no particular theme for this blog, I am often torn between several subjects. I’ve shunted off classic photography to another blog, but even that’s a problem as there are so many commonalities between cooking, which I often write about on this blog, and the processing side of ‘classic’ photography (ie on film) – measuring, timing, weighing, careful attention, care (even love) – come to think of it, much of that applies to the taking of photographs too.

fragi

Fragi – tiny Romanian wild strawberries

As I’ve said before, I’ve no need of the WordPress daily prompts; my problem is how to find the time to write about everything which motivates me to write, especially as I have an hiatus in my soujourns on internet as I spend two days away from home attending to the ‘communications’ needs of the small charity for which I work (and I’ve recently introduced  a weekly blog for that, though it’s a very simple one).

Then there’s the whole ‘grump’ thing; I originally set up this blog to ‘have a go at’ so much I find wrong with the world, particularly the UK, today. And I’ve written almost nothing about music, which has been an inseparable companion for the whole of my life. It’s coming: I’ve got a major grump boiling up about ‘Classic FM’ radio, which – X-Factoring everything including Beethoven – is getting close to being shut off permanently in my home.

This afternoon I made a small pot of tea (my Romanian wife doesn’t drink it), Yorkshire tea of course (no, it doesn’t grow on the moors here but we know how to select the best) and, fancying something sweet, I spread a couple of slices of my home-made bread with ‘strawberry’ jam. But I don’t like strawberry jam! Except for a very small summer window, strawberries with any really ‘good’ taste no longer exist. The ‘window’ coincides with one of my pet hates – Wimbledon – but this is the English strawberry season.

However, the strawberry jam I ate this afternoon would blow your mind. I say ‘strawberry’ but this was made with miniature versions of the fruit we buy, or maybe grow, here – between 0.5 and 1 cm across. They grow on the lower slopes of the Romanian mountains and are called ‘Fragi’ (that’s ‘fradge’). Even as jam they taste extraordinarily good, but picked fresh on a Romanian mountain they explode in the mouth insisting “This is what a strawberry should taste like”.

Red cabbage with quickly seared pork shoulder (forget the old wives' tale that pork must be well cooked if you want some flavour)

Red cabbage with quickly seared pork shoulder (forget the old wives’ tale that pork must be well cooked if you want some flavour)

That’s not to say there’s nothing in the UK which tastes good – there are many British bloggers I read who show that to be untrue – so today I’d like to sing the praises of red cabbage, which I’ve been cooking to accompany quickly seared slices of pork shoulder around taking some pictures and processing the film for a grumpytykepix photo post – probably tomorrow morning.

The picture above isn’t up to much but I forgot to tart up the plate and take a photograph before I dived (or is that dove?) in.

So, for two people: chop up quarter of a small red cabbage (they’re actually purple of course). Chop up a large shallot (or onion) alongside. Spread freshly ground black pepper over it, sprinkle on a pinch of salt and a handful of juniper berries, tip into a saucepan with a knob of butter and a bit of oil (any good oil will do so long as you avoid the over-publicised poison – margarine). I’d add a chopped up Granny Smith or Bramley apple but then my wife wouldn’t eat it. Put on a low heat with a tightly fitting lid for about 45min, stirring occasionally, until it’s well cooked. Delicious and the perfect accompaniment to pork. I tried some Stella Artois cidre with it (it was a cheap offer in the local supermarket). OK, but a poor substitute for the real thing from Somerset, or Britanny.

I wonder if this post might unearth some former students of mine:

Aliya, Kazakhstan; Daily, Estonia; Diana, Belarus; Jozef, Slovakia; Kaisa, Estonia; Pavlina, Czech Republic; Ruslan, Ukraine

More about the poster below.

Poster for English course, Ecumenical Institute, Iasi, 2004

I found this proof of a poster while visiting Romania in August this year, sorting through papers I had left in store there. I made the poster to promote an English course I was teaching at the Ecumenical Institute in Iasi (no copies of the poster itself; just this proof showing some corrections to be made before printing). Not particularly interesting, but I used pictures of and quotes from my students at the end of a course at the Institute the previous year (2003) and that made me wonder what they are doing now. We had such a wonderful time together, especially as the course wasn’t limited to the classroom and we made trips, including to the wonderful Bucovina, together.

The course was for the World Council of Churches and students from various former communist bloc countries were chosen on the basis of their likely use of better English in ecumenical activities. For every one of them it was the first time they had been out of their own country. Perhaps not all the students are on the poster and I cannot remember for sure the names and countries (Kyrgyzstan?) of any others, but they will be in the picture on a commemorative mug made for each of them to take home. The archbishop Daniel, also in the picture, took a keen interest in the course; he became Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox church in 2007.

World Council of Churches English course, 2003, Iasi, Romania, commemorative mug

I thought I’d see whether posting it on my blog might get through to at least one of the students. By the end of the course they were pretty good friends so may well have kept in touch with each other.

So, Aliya from Kazakhstan, Daily from Estonia, Diana from Belarus, Jozef from Slovakia, Kaisa from Estonia, Pavlina from the Czech Republic, and Ruslan from the Ukraine, or any other student who is on the picture on the mug, I’d love to hear from you and to know how your English is now!

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