Personal history


I was so surprised to find myself sitting under a picture showing my high school and a brief history

With that title it may seem odd if I tell you I’m sitting in Wetherspoon, one of a large chain of pubs where they open early in the morning, have free WiFi and serve good (Lavazza) coffee which is cheap: £1.30 for a double espresso (which is what is in front of me as I write this). They also serve a ‘large’ English breakfast for £4.99 if you want it. I do not, I ate my usual raw oats with milk at home.

It is, in fact, the first day of school for Petronela after the summer break. She resigned from the school she had been at for 11 years before we went to Romania as, among other reasons, there seemed little opportunity to teach history, the subject she loves and her speciality,  though she taught Humanities, Religious Studies and Citizenship as well as beginners’ French, even a little Geography, there.

Supply teaching

Time to move on so she has gone ‘supply teaching’, in the UK that means filling in for teachers who are absent for some reason, and this week was the first time a requirement for a fully qualified history teacher had come up. At the moment it is just for this week. As the school is difficult to reach by public transport from our home, I’m the taxi driver.

Right opposite the pub in which I am sitting is recently grassed over space which until a few months ago was what was left of my high school

It is, people might think, a coincidence as Wetherspoon is just across the road from a green space which was, until recently the building in which I went to school – Keighley  Boys’ Grammar School. The school has not existed for many years but the building was demolished only in the past few months.

There are a few more ‘coincidences’. The grammar school was housed in what was the ‘Mechanics Institute’, a magnificent building with a Big Ben type clock tower, built in 1870. A large part of that was destroyed by fire and the wonderful clock tower fell down but, I assure you, I didn’t do that despite my notoriety for building a smoke ring generating machine to disrupt lessons. Anyway, the fire was long after I left.

The magnificent town library. You can just see a corner of what is now a Wetherspoon pub, on the far right

For this week I’ll probably not go home but stay in the town until Petronela finishes, either in Wetherspoon or the magnificent library next door, which also has WiFi. I used to escape to this library when I played truant from school –  a frequent occurence in later years when I disliked school intensely – particularly history (!) and French. I loved maths, physics, English (language, not literature, two separate subjects) and art so attended those lessons diligently and did extremely well in final exams in those subjects. French I had ‘dropped’ earlier when I refused to go to school unless I was allowed to do so.  But the history exam was my glory day. I wrote my name and details as required at the top of the paper, waited the regulation one hour without writing a single word then left.

Apoplectic headmaster

The headmaster was my history teacher; he went apoplectic, even berserk, and I had to go into school on a Saturday morning and sit the history paper; quite pointless of course. There must have been something wrong with the teaching as later in life I set up and ran a history society and, of course, married a history teacher.

Another ‘ coincidence’: my high school was created when a forerunner of the school where Petronela has just gone to teach, a little out of the town, was moved into the Mechanics Institute.

Finally, I sat down with my coffee not taking note of my surroundings, looking at the space which was my school through the large windows in front. Then I noticed the ‘picture’ on the wall to my right, featuring photos of the Mechanics Institute and forerunners with a little information about it and the ‘grammar school’.

As I’ve probably said before I do not believe in coincidence, so await what comes next.

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As so often in Romania, things are not as they seem nor as you have been told.

The necessary legal documents to buy the ‘dream house’ (see previous post) were not in order as we had been assured they were and, more important, the elderly lady – D-na Saveta – owning it has two daughters, one of whom was keen for her to sell it but the other – who wasn’t answering the phone or communicating in any way – didn’t want her to sell it at all it turned out. She needs ‘permission’, and a legal agreement, from both to sell it.

We haven’t yet given up entirely but it seems unlikely; to get the documents in order would take at least a year (though that time scale would not be a problem for us).

Tomorrow we’re hoping to have another chat with D-na Saveta after erecting the tents in the garden here to dry as we packed them rather damp in Săliște. It should be sunny here tomorrow morning.

The route back – first part

Map of route we aim to follow from Campulung Moldovenesc to Budapest

So, we are back in the Bucovina having spent about a week in Săliște, Sibiu, returning to Iași on Thursday. The villages and small towns around the city of  Sibiu are quite wonderful with their multi-coloured, well maintained saș (saxon) architecture. I put a few pix on my Facebook journal, Dusty2Romania, but Petronela has put far more on her Facebook. Having ‘done’ the spectacular ‘Transfagărășanul’ last year we thought we’d try Romania’s highest main road – Transalpina, 2,145 metres – this year. I wasn’t so impressed though it seems extremely popular with motorcyclists and occasional cyclists.

Very noticable throughout Romania was a massive increase in the number of cyclists – lycra, helmets and all – not only foreign tourists but many Romanians.

Back in Bucovina

We arrived at my ‘honorary grandmother’s’ house, just 7km before Câmpulung Moldovenesc, a couple of hours ago. We will leave most probably on Monday to follow the route shown above rather than the way we came, via Baia Mare, Sighet and Borșa, so then skirting the Ukrainian border. There is camping at the spa town of Marghita (not named on the Google map above but the last thick black circle before the Romania/Hungary border I think) so we aim to spend a night there then on to Budapest, where we have selected another campsite.

We will then go through Budapest, hopefully avoiding the M0 motorway around the south of the city which is a really scary drive – maniac Hungarian drivers sticking 2 metres from your boot at 90mph – on the way to Austria then Germany but haven’t decided on a route yet. So far we have seen four bad accidents this trip, one on that Budapest ring road and one today on the way here from Iași which, to get round it, took us on what was really a forest footpath – fun in other circumstances.

We fancy trying to pick up the Rhine valley which we really enjoyed in the classic mini in 2006, where there were some excellent campsites. I’ll probably be able to do another post somewhere along that route.

My love affair with Romanian entered a new phase a few days ago when we visited friends in the Bucovina town of Câmpulung Moldovenesc. These friends knew we were looking for a house in the region with idea of moving from the UK to Romania to live. At that time we were not thinking the chance of moving was better than 50/50; there were, and remain, many questions to be answered.

A traditional Bucovina timber house

Traditional Bucovina timber house we're considering

The friends, Cătălin and his wife Carmen, knew also that we were looking, for preference, for a house in traditional Bucovina style, with a reasonable plot of land, at a price we might be able to afford. We also wanted it close to a major tourist route for Maramureș and Bucovina, two regions of Romania where Romanian traditional culture is best preserved.

When we arrived they told us they might have found the house we wanted, a few minutes on foot from where they lived. For me, it was particularly interesting as it was basically built of timber. We set off to see it, noting the location was just what we wanted, on the major route but far enough from the road to not hear the traffic, on the edge of the forest but only a short distance to the town centre.

Crossing a rickety wooden bridge over a stream then walking a short distance along a ‘street’ of grass, we looked over a fence to see a house from a fairy tale. Built from substantial timbers, infilled with clay, it has none of the environmentally unsound characteristics of houses built of ‘modern’ materials. As I said recently on my ‘journal’ of the present trip to Romania – Dusty2Romania – I can sense immediately I enter a house built of timber, the only other form of construction giving the same sense of peace and well-being being a strawbale house, and there are few of those in Romania.

Preserving a 100+ year old house

This house has stood for more than 100 years and will probably, with care, stand for another hundred, certainly for far longer than I or Petronela are living. Most Romanians would, unfortunately, demolish it and build a concrete, brick and plastic monstrosity in its place. If we are lucky enough to acquire it, we would preserve the existing house, only building a sympathetic extension on the rear.

Today we made a second visit, measured the rooms, outbuildings, examined the legal documents of title etc and, most important, talked a lot with the 85 years old present owner, leaving already calling her ‘Bunica Saveta’ – grandma Saveta.

Maybe we are a step closer to realising our dream.

A week of sorting, packing, searching for campsites on our route, about 1,700 miles, from Menston, Yorkshire in the UK to Iași in north Romania, including the ferry crossing.

We’ve done this journey three times before though never following quite the same route: in 2006 in Mini, our 1975 classic mini via the Rhine valley; two years ago in Lofty, our 1972 VW bay camper by the most direct route. The first time was in 2000 when we’d flown to the UK for my mother’s 80th birthday then took a Honda Accord back to Romania (after getting married at three days notice!). This year we’ll make a small diversion from the direct route, camping in Holland, then through northern Germany avoiding Cologne but after that on the direct route, hoping for fewer long hold-ups than two years ago.

Map showing approximate route from Hook of Holland to Iasi in Romania

Approximate route

There will be a few small diversions to camp sites but not counting these the total journey is about 1,680 miles (2,700km).

Facebook group for brief diary

As I did two years ago I’ve made a Facebook group

Dusty2Romania

to, hopefully, post a daily brief diary when we have internet access. You’re very welcome to follow us there if you use Facebook. Facebook being what it is I’ve made the group closed, but if you’re not already a member (I made many friends – in the real sense of the word – members  already) just ask. I aim to supplement the brief Facebook entries with more substantial blog posts, which I much prefer, here when possible.

Menston to Harwich (nearly)

First stage, tomorrow, down to Harwich where we’ll take the ferry to Hook of Holland on Tuesday morning. We’ve booked into a campsite at Bradfield, near Manningtree, about 8 miles from the ferry terminal, recently refurbished I understand, for Monday night. It’s behind a pub; we’re hoping that’s good for a meal so we don’t have to cook. I’ll let you know how it is.

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.

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