Personal history

Allstars members, all from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds themselves, gained many things from their involvement in the internet projects; the confidence to present their work to an audience of adults was one. Here am Allstar/Leo presents to an annual conference of Lions Clubs

Allstars members, all from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds themselves, gained many things from their involvement in the internet projects; the confidence to present their work to an audience of adults was one. Here an Allstar/Leo presents to an annual conference of Lions Clubs

I have many fond memories from my time – 11.1/2 years – in Romania but none more fond than my time ‘teaching English’ to a class in an industrial high school in an industrial area of the city of Suceava, an area therefore depressed after the destruction of industry following the collapse of Communism.

A few days ago someone from this class contacted me, see below. I cannot begin to write how exciting this is but I just had to blog about it.

Not the Mafia

The story behind moving to Suceava to teach was all due to my misunderstanding of a Romanian word – ‘Marfă’. I began in a ‘top’ high school, Liceul Ștefan cel Mare, when my intended 6 months stay working in a voluntary humanitarian project in nearby Siret ended. How this happened has been documented on this blog in the past. However when I suggested I wanted to teach less advantaged students there was considerable opposition from the authorities. The overall view was ‘why bother with them, you’re wasting your time, concentrate on the best schools and the brightest students’, an attitude I met in Romania many times then, to the point of causing me many personal problems at the time. Foreigners could then be given a hard time. That is changed now and followers of this blog will know I have spent substantial periods in Romania most years since I left in 2004 and have many friends there.

However, the problems were a contributing factor in my moving to Iași, where I then taught in an ‘industrial high school’ and a couple of ‘top’ schools.

A different way of ‘teaching English’

I didn’t ‘teach English’ in a conventional way; I tried to do it in a way from which my students would not only learn some English, enthusiastically, but build confidence to believe they could achieve anything they wished. This was by involving them in projects with classes in English-speaking countries, UK and Canada if I remember correctly, and subsequently helping them to get involved in volunteering, leading eventually to formation of the third Leo Club in Romania. The projects were on email, beginning with one donated ‘obsolete’ IBM laptop. No Windows – everything was done with MsDos; does anyone remember that? Eventually the class involved in the email projects called themselves the ‘Allstars‘ and went on to form what was the third Leo club in Romania and probably among those with the youngest membership anywhere – the Suceava Burdujeni Leos were then 12-14 years old. Late teens early twenties is more usual.

A ‘Messenger’ request answered

A few days ago I had a request on Messenger from Anca … (the family name I did not recognise). Usually I ignore such requests (my dislike of Facebook except in small closed groups has been well documented) but for some reason I opened the message and was delighted to see it was from my former student in the industrial high school mentioned above. The class have a Facebook closed group and Anca posted that she had ‘found’ me and asked if anyone else from that class remembered me.

What happened as a result was humbling. The general response was “How can we possibly forget?” accompanied in some cases by thanks to me for what they had achieved since, eg a lawyer, an IT specialist, an English teacher, even a tattoo artist! (I didn’t tattoo them, honest!). One was particularly amazing; she said that only a day or so previously she had been teaching her daughter a limerick I wrote for her almost a quarter of a century ago. I didn’t remember it but she had and sent it to me. I remember all the names though I knew them only by their given names (I’ve generally not put them in the photograph captions).

Last year during a short visit to Suceava I did try to find some of these former students but without success. In a way not surprising as I’ve now learnt that many of them are now in other parts of Romania and it’s quite likely some have moved abroad – so many Romanians have. Now I’m hoping that my health will allow me at least one more visit to Romania, when I’ll do my best to meet as many as possible of them in person. Meanwhile, somewhere I have the documentation for the Leo club and will try to find it, together with more of the photographs taken during activities of this wonderful group of youngsters.


Don’t expect an extraordinary blog post from me today, that title is about other bloggers who I follow.

A recent photo on

First, a blog which has become one of my favourites is celebrating its first birthday today. I didn’t find it one year ago, more like nine months, nor is it one I might be expected to follow – a daily run-down of life as a wife, mum of three delightful little girls and, more recently, a ‘rescued’ kitten. Nor is it because the mum is blogging in English from Latvia, a country I knew little about though I had visited it once, briefly, many years ago, though it has been fascinating to learn a little more. The blog has no particular theme unless you say that family life is the theme; it ranges from ‘what we’re having for dinner’ (sometimes with recipes), that mum’s amazing excursions into ‘do-it-yourself’ (eg, building a kitchen from scratch), creation of wonderful Christmas cards among other crafts, a rare ‘night out’ with her husband, some enticing photography in the ‘forest’ amid which she lives, how to pick wild fungi, or the antics of the three little ones, or, or, or … … . All delivered with an openness and not a little love, which is so refreshing. You’ll find the birthday post at:

The second blog I was delighted to see ‘reappear’ today after close on a year, another which I enjoyed so much because of the openness, was begun by a 16 year old young lady living on the coast of Wales. I really enjoyed her insights into the life of an English teenage ‘girl’ and, not insignificant, how well it was written. Then she ‘disappeared’. As some of you know I had some serious health problems and when I was back into blogging she had ‘gone’. This week, now rather older than 16, she commented on my Sunday post and said she was about to get back into blogging and, today, there was her first post in a long time. Of course I went back to her posts written when I was in and out of hospital and found she also had been seriously ill. However, she’d done some amazing things in the time since she’d recovered, not least jump-starting her education with spectacular results. You can see her recent post at.

I cannot leave this without mentioning another teenager’s blog, a Romanian posting in both English and Romanian, a similar age to the second blogger above but again much younger when she started. Again she hasn’t posted much recently, not since before Christmas, being tied up with ensuring progress of her education but if I say she’s entrepreneurial and ambitious (she has an ambition to be an airline pilot) you might gather why it’s been a pleasure to follow her for quite a time now. I’ve bought her two books, one of haiku (which you’ll know I try to write) and that on being a teenager. Well worth a visit:

So, a 1st birthday, rebirth of a blog prompting memories of another great blogger.

Is it any wonder that all three are keen photographers, like me, though they don’t blog specifically on photography?

That’s why it’s “An extraordinary blogging day”.

I’ve changed first-thing-in-the-morning weekday roles with Petronela since school finished for half-term. When she was going to the school at which she taught for eleven years she was generally up first and made her coffee and my tea and I stayed in bed, out of her way, until she came back into the bedroom to get ready for school. At weekends and holidays it was usually I who got up first and took her coffee to her much later.

I did manage to stay in bed till 5.30 this morning, half an hour later than yesterday, but as I want to drink my tea before I do anything the roles have reversed and now I take P her coffee at 5.45. I think it’s going to settle down like this as she likes that 15 minutes more in bed.

Jobs piling up

As it now looks as though I’ll be driving her to school for a while longer, as the school asked her to go back and she cannot realistically get there on public transport, I’m going to have to think about coming home for a few hours on some days; there are jobs now piling up which I cannot do in Wetherspoon or the library. I have to come back on a couple of days next week for medical appointments so I’ll probably do a trial run this week to see how it goes.

Not a lot to say about today. Monday seems to be exceptional in Wetherspoon as there were not as many people in as yesterday. The male half of the couple I mentioned yesterday arrived at 9.05 and I had to tell him that I had not seen the lady. I had thought they were man and wife but evidently not. I saw her later on the way to Wetherspoon.

I was surprised to see a young mother feeding her baby with a beer close by at 9.30 in the morning.

Didn’t make the Brontës’ moors

I had thought of going to Haworth today and brought a camera with the intention of trying to capture the moors behind the Brontë sisters’ home as they evoked it. It didn’t work out; perhaps another day.

Keighley ‘picture house’

I would have liked to get in to ‘The picture house’ to get some pictures but it doesn’t open at a time I can do that so I had to be content with the outside. When I was a child we still called the cinema “the picture house”. Later, as a young teenager I didn’t do the usual ‘job’ delivering newspapers but was, at 14, ‘assistant projectionist’ at a local ‘picture house’ after school. It no longer exists.

Just opposite the picture house is St. Anne’s primary school. I used to go there not long after I came back to the UK after Romania to help Romanian immigrant children who didn’t speak English to settle in. I park the car close by now while I’m in Keighley.

Looking across the room past the ‘pumpkin’ shape applied to the window towards the former site of my former school and the technical college behind

Did that horrible pumpkin gobble up my old high school? In a much more interesting building, it used to be in front of the grey and blue thing, the technical college

Half-term holiday is over so it’s back on the school run this morning, frosty (-4degC) but  a delightful run over the moor under a clear blue sky. Also, as the clocks went back an hour at midnight Saturday the sun was up. Still no sign of the ‘Arctic conditions’.

It was quite a bit colder when I took the header photo (on film) in one of the wilder parts of Yorkshire – so a favourite for me – several years ago.

That means I’m beginning to write this post back in ‘my corner’ in Wetherspoon in Keighley, with the log fire burning close by. An ugly pumpkin face, a ‘ghost’ and two skulls are glaring at me. I’ll be glad when it’s Wednesday and the horrible ‘halloween’ will be over for another year. I really dislike what has been done to it by big commercial interests.

Even cheaper coffee

One of many ghosts, made of a mask and a thin white textile, hanging around the place The coffee system has been changed. It’s now extremely dangerous. The price has gone down – yes down! – by 10p to £1.20 and for that you can have as many refills as you like. So I could sit here all day and kill myself with 100 double espressos for £1.20. I’m not suicidal so I’ll limit myself to two.

Yorkshire dialect

I’ve stayed here a bit later than before and it’s clear that this pub becomes a sort of social club after 9.30-10am. More than half of the clients are men over retirement age, the majority drinking beer which is also cheaper than other places; alcoholic drinks are not served before 9am but few arrive before ten. Listening to them talking I would guess many live in the countryside around the town and take advantage of their free bus passes, which can be used after 9.30am (after rush hour). It’s fascinating listening to the broad Yorkshire accents and even a sprinkling of local dialect.


A favourite activity seems to be picking potential winners of today’s horse races. There’s a couple sitting next to me, I’m sure well over 80 years of age. With a coffee and a large brandy in front of him, and a more modest small beer in front of her, he is going through a racing paper and telling her the horses and betting odds for each race. I’m pretty sure her eyesight is not good enough to read the paper. They then discuss the race and he makes copious notes on one of a small pile of notelets then transfers something to a bigger plan on a large sheet of paper. I guess that this is the betting plan for today. That seemingly finished he’s got himself another coffee and her a glass of white wine. He was despatched, presumably to a nearby bookie, with £40 from her, so I guess she is the gambler.

On another table three men had a lively discussion about one race after which one, clearly the most mobile of the three, was despatched to the bookie with an instruction “Put £10 on ?? to win”. I didn’t catch the name of the horse. One of them just got his third pint of Guiness from the bar; how they can drink that in the morning is beyond me.

… and Ayala champagne

Gambling is not one of my vices. I’ve placed a bet on a horse only once in my life, with quite spectacular results. I posted the story on this blog some time ago; if you are interested search for ‘Ayala’. The first post to come up is password protected but the second, ‘Gambling and champagne’, tells the story.

Now, 11.30am, approaching lunch time, the pub is beginning to fill up with, generally, a much younger clientelle. Breakfast menus are being taken off the tables, to be replaced with the lunch menu. Having had my second espresso it’s time to retire to the library next door, where I can recharge the iPad and battle with the HTML to change the text font. The default is not good for anyone with a sight problem.

The sun was so bright it chopped a slice of my head off; I think this is the first ever ‘selfie’ of the two of us, in the deserted pub.

Today is Petronela’s and my 17th wedding anniversary. Why the 17th is ‘special’ I won’t bore you with except to say that in Romania we lived at number 17, we bought our present home before we knew it would be number 17 (it didn’t exist when we reserved it) and there are a few other occurences of the number too.

On our anniversaries we usually do something ‘special’ – eg, go somewhere more exotic to eat or to stay. This being a more than usually ‘special’ day we decided to do nothing ‘special’, and so it became special.

The more so because the pub we chose to visit, just for a drink, on the other side of the valley, usually crowded on a Sunday lunchtime, was deserted. We were the only people in it (other than the barman). That was pretty special.

Then, having been warned of “Arctic conditions” by the weather forecasters it turned out to be a beautiful day, one of the best of the year. We reckon mother nature turned on her magic just for us.

Today is my ‘birthday’ but not the day on which I was born. It is the day on which, 17 years ago, I ‘acquired’ my Romanian name – Dimitrie. My ‘ziua onomastică’ – onomastic day.

Few people call me that: the priests who married us 17 years ago just three days later, my Godfather (ie my ‘best man’ in English terms), my in-laws and a few close friends in Romania who know our story. I’ve had a few messages or calls from some of them today. Other than these a few people know it from questioning my ‘personal’ email address (I have a few addresses, for different purposes).

So, today is the day of Sf. (Saint) Dumitru (Romanian) or, with other spellings, Greek, Russian, English, etc – eg Demetrios, Dimitri, Dimitrie. I adopted the latter. He’s rather like St. George but he didn’t slay any dragons as far as I know.

Seventeen is a special number for Petronela and me. I have referred to it before I think but it may be the subject of a post in three days time.

PS. Some churches, eg the Roman Catholic church, celebrate St Dimitrie on a different day.

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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