Personal history


You’ll probably find me prattling on about equality, and discrimination, even more than usual over the coming month, particularly gender equality, because in the UK we have a general election in a month’s time. Although the present Government is headed for a landslide victory we do have an opportunity to cause a bit of a storm because we now have the Female Equality Party and, exciting for me, the party leader is standing in the constituency where I live. I referred briefly to her, Sophie Walker, in my previous post.

I haven’t ‘marched’ for years, 23 years to be precise when a German teaching colleague and I were pushed to the front of the column of protesting Romanian teachers which we had joined.

I’m polishing my marching boots now and honing my placarding skills. But as a starter I thought I’d give you a run-down of how and when I took up the cudgels against each type of discrimination. I might be a year or so out but not more, and gender discrimination was not the first.

Religious discrimination

I first experienced religious discrimination when I was about eight years old, though I didn’t recognise it as such at the time and what we’d now call bullying was not directed at me. I can now see there was an element of economic discrimination too as the bullying was directed at children from Roman Catholic families, who were generally even poorer than us. Even at that tender age I did not understand it and was often in trouble with the ‘protestant’ clique as I insisted on playing with the RCs.

Gender discrimination

I didn’t recognise discrimination against women until I was much older, 16 in fact. At that time I was working in a research laboratory and began to question why all the lab technicians were women, no males, but there was not one woman among the many research staff or section heads. It would not be true now but there’s still a long way to go. I eventually, in 2006, ended up working in an organisation specifically supporting and promoting the roles of women in science and technology.

Racial discrimination

I first became aware of racial (or skin colour) discrimination in the early 1960s when, between ‘real’ jobs, I worked for a short time in a coffee bar near Victoria station in London. I had a colleague, a lovely man from Balochistan (or should that be Baluchistan?) called Gulamnabi (the spelling may not be correct) and was horrified by the abuse he got from seemingly civilised customers. I used to put orange concentrate in their early morning coffee 😇 and steam it till it was too hot to drink (they were always in a rush). I’ve had many confrontations since those days.

Disability/ability discrimination

I think I first became aware of the discrimination against people with a disability in the late 1980s when, as a member of a Lions club, I assisted at sports days and in clubs for people with a disability. This culminated in my visit to Romania in 1993, initially specifically to work with children with a disability and their parents. More recently I’ve worked for a charity supporting people with sight loss and additional disabilities.

Age discrimination

I’ve never had a problem with age discrimination but I know and/or know of many people who have, particularly when looking for employment in the early 2000s. The best story I have was from applying for a job in an organisation supporting women in science and technology, when I did not respond to the date of birth question on the application form. “I see you didn’t reply to the age question,” said one of the interviewing panel. “Here we go,” I thought as I answered “No”. “Good for you,” was the response. I got the job.

Sexual orientation discrimination

Homophobia was not obvious to me before the late 1970s when I sometimes went to dinner parties where I was with a lady partner but all the other couples were male and discussions round the table made me aware of it. In some ways it became far worse when homosexual acts between men finally became decriminalised in 2004. Of course there never had been legislation making lesbian acts illegal. Oddly enough I ended up working in an organisation supporting LGBT people in 2005; really odd for me was that I was the only ‘straight’ person in the organisation, no problem for me but it was for some of my colleagues.

That sets out my battlefield for the coming month. My weapons will only be words but you all know I’m sure the English metonymic adage about the pen being mightier than ….

I was recently nominated for ‘The blogger recognition award‘; I have never ‘accepted’ such awards because I’ve seen they can get out of hand and usually require ‘inflicting’ them on a number of other bloggers. However, though I cannot accept this one because I cannot bring myself to meet the first condition, to nominate 15 others bloggers for it (think of chain letters – 15×15=225 x15=3,375) and thus cannot say something about each blog nominated, another ‘condition’. However, I am going to take the opportunity to fulfil some other conditions, the first of which is to thank the nominator and give a link to their blog.

Kristina Steiner

So, thank you sincerely to Kristina Steiner (click her name to go to her blog) who I came to know recently when she gave a ‘like’ on a post of mine, subsequently finding that she was Slovenian, a teacher of English (as I have been) and had recently (one year ago) published a book. One of the things I love about blogging, the most loved thing after providing an outlet for an urge to write, is discovering new ‘friends’ – often in other parts of the world and in completely different cultures – when they put a ‘like’ on a post. I like to think that Kristina has already become a friend.

I’m saying no more about the novel, entitled ‘Equinox‘, publicly other than to say it has many surprising similarities (yet some big differences) to the longest story I’ve ever written but nowhere near a novel (still in progress – see my post of 2 April). I bought Kristina’s book and finished reading it a day ago. I’ve already commented to Kristina privately and will do so more. You can buy it on Amazon – a Kindle version is very cheap. 

The second requirement is to write this post and show the award. I don’t mind doing that.

How I started blogging

Third is to say how my blog started. That’s easy but may seem a little odd (but I am, I’m told!). I created the blog in 2008, four years after returning to the UK after 11.1/2 years in Romania – most of the time as a volunteer – because although I was writing a lot in PR work positions at that time I wasn’t writing everything I really wanted to write about. However, I did not start blogging on it until four years later when my frustration with British politics, and what British society had become in my absence, boiled over. However, I foresaw that this alone wouldn’t keep my writing urges satisfied for long when I created the blog, so gave it a subtitle of ‘A view from Yorkshire, about anything’, so breaking a basic rule if you want to collect a lot of followers: have a single theme. I never did intend to post every day, another advice for collecting a lot of followers, only when I wanted to get something out of my system. There have also been long gaps due to some serious health problems.

Two pieces of advice

Another ‘condition’ is to give two pieces of advice to new bloggers. I wouldn’t usually be so presumptious but:

I would say always follow up a ‘like’ on your posts, even if only to go to have a look at the ‘liker’s’ blog; in my opinion it’s just polite, something that is sadly much missing from society today. It seems to me that the easier communication has become the less people communicate in any meaningful way (Facebook, which I dislike, being a prime example). You will not always find the blog interesting; I often put a ‘like’ on a blog that I would not want to ‘follow’ as the theme is not of general interest to me but that particular post is. On the other hand, you will find many new ‘friends’ in many different cultures.

My second piece of advice is do not get too hung up on posting frequently, or even regularly. This is against WordPress advice and will mean your followers will build up only slowly. Post when you want, or need, to say something. I find that if something is bugging me it helps to write it down and get it out there; whether anyone reads it, let alone ‘likes’ it, is often irrelevant.

Writing in a foreign language

So, thank you Kristina; I love you already and wish you success with your book and the second which you say you have in the pipeline. I have tremendous admiration for anyone who writes in a foreign language and already follow a number of Romanian bloggers for that reason, even though I read and speak Romanian pretty well. I have special admiration for someone who writes a novel in a foreign language. So, Kristina, I’m delighted that you have already prompted me to learn a little about your country and reading your novel suggested some solutions to difficulties I had encountered in my story. It is a privilege to have begun to know you. Thank you. (more…)

The author, Christmas morning 2016, with smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and champagne breakfast.

Breakfast, Christmas 2016

I’ve been following Cristian Mihai’s blog almost since I began blogging approaching five years ago. I was first attracted to it because of the excellent writing in English by a Romanian, having taught English in Romania for around a decade. Since then I’ve found other Romanian blogs written in excellent English covering one or more of the wide diversity of topics you would find on mine, which as followers will know, breaks one or two cardinal rules if you want a lot of followers: posting frequently, even daily, and sticking to a theme. As I also speak and read Romanian pretty well, though I’ve never cracked writing it well, I now follow quite a few Romanian blogs posting in just Romanian or both Romanian and English, though I was sad to see that after my long absences several seem to have ceased to blog.

I used to post fairly frequently, though never every day, but some serious health issues two and a half years ago meant that posting became very erratic, particularly as I was also attempting to keep up with editing, and blogging on, a site I created for the Yorkshire village in which I live.

Our 'music corner' at home, showing tv with Vienna New Year concert 2017, panpipes sitting on the Yamaha 'piano'

Vienna New Year concert 2017

So followers may well find me writing on any one of my major hobbies – music, photography (on film); food and cooking; my efforts at writing fiction or ‘poetry’, as distinct from journalism (which was my profession), and our local writers’ club formed and run here in Wharfedale by a Romanian (!); classic cars particularly my mini and vw camper; and a few others. Or my major hobby-horses which include: discrimination in any of its many forms; the beauty of Romania, it’s people, traditions and food, particularly my love affair with the Bucovina; the idiocy of politicians; my experiences with our superb National Health Service and its staff here in the UK and the determination of those in charge of it and successive Governments to destroy it; habitual use of certain ‘four letter words’; and again, a few others, including scrambled eggs! (I know, overuse of exclamation marks but perhaps merited here 😉 ).

So, you have been warned; I am not taking up Cristian’s reblogging offer to find a lot more followers, but just to give him a bit of support. Hence this introductory blog which will be the first I’ll be asking him to reblog. After that, perhaps a few of my past blog posts then one or two new ones.

This facility must surely be invaluable to those younger than me who wish to get better known and maybe make a bit of money out of their writing so it would be very sad to see it not continue. I have no such ambition. I write because I like to write – that’s all.

Question: What’s even better than the one you love saying they love you?

Answer: Their good friend saying it!

Very occasionally I like Facebook, despite what I will be saying about it (and Twitter) in a future post.

love

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…)

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 🙂 .

 

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…)

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