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.


Snowman in the bedroom! Courtesy of Petronela – with mărțișor

Today, according to Romanian tradition, is the first day of Spring, though looking out of the window here it’s not spring-like. A thick blanket of snow (for here 10cm or more is ‘thick’ though in other parts of Yorkshire there is far more and roads are closed) covers everything, hundreds of schools are closed (including the primary and the high school in our village). Nevertheless we will celebrate the arrival of Spring in the Romanian way (see last year’s post,  when it was a bright sunny day).

‘Dragobete’ spoons carved in the Bucovina, Romania

Today, 24 February, is the ‘day the birds are betrothed‘ – the most beautiful, for me, of the traditions associated with this special day in Romania. It’s called ‘Dragobete‘.

As regular followers of this blog will know I do not ‘celebrate’ St Valentine’s Day which has just become a massive commercial event which, like Halloween, has displaced the true tradition in many western countries. Dragobete has not yet become tainted in the same way; rather it is just forgotten in much of the country and by many Romanians, but still celebrated in some country districts, particularly in areas where tradition is best retained, like the Bucovina and Marămureș.

Were I a young, unattached, young man I might be chasing my love through the forest and, if she returned my love, she’d allow me to catch her and give her a kiss. Before this we would have been, with other young people, collecting together the first flowers of spring – perhaps snowdrops pushing their way through the snow.

According to Romanian myth Dragobete was the son of Baba Dochia, but more of that on 1 March, when the return of Spring is more celebrated in itself.

The spoons, carved in the Bucovina (more precisely near or in the small town of Rădăuți) celebrate Dragobete; some carved by Călin Danila, others by Viorel Marian, I’ve had them for about 20 years. They are rather like Welsh love spoons.

Ricardo Muti, this year’s conductor and in the year of our marriage, 2000

I’d usually write about my New Year experience in one post but this time was persuaded to break it into two parts, so here’s the second instalment.

New Year’s Day became ‘special’ for me 20 years ago when, then living in the student hostel of the high school in which I was a volunteer English teacher, I was invited to spend New Year’s Eve with the family of a history teacher, urged on by her younger sister. Having followed the Romanian tradition of a ‘midnight feast’ I was invited to stay the night rather than return to my chilly hostel room 7km away. Little did anyone know, least of all me, to what that would lead, or did I? Two years later that history teacher became my wife and a tradition for us was set.




Romanian traditions and Vienna New Year concert

The following morning was spent with a background of New Year dance and traditions on the tv, something I was well versed in having spent a few years in the Romanian Bucovina, one of the regions where traditions are best preserved. Then in common with tv stations throughout the world the Romanian station switched to covering the Vienna New Year concert. Petronela and I have followed that every year since, the following year at a mutual friend/colleague’s home where a month or so later on that friend’s birthday you might say that the romance was perhaps recognised as ‘serious’.




So, back to this year. The kitchen had been left a ‘disaster’ as we fell into bed at 2am, bubbly consumed with the background of Nile Rodgers (see yesterday’s post) then Jools Holland with truly amazing artists like Ruby Turner and Mavis Staples (and I’d better mention Ed Sheeran who doesn’t have such a bad voice 😜).

As I said, the ‘kitchen’ was left a disaster but in fact we don’t have a kitchen as such, the sitting room area and kitchen being ‘open plan’, separated by just a counter, next to which we have our dining table – a beautiful mahogany drop-leaf amalgamation of a modern top in classical style and a base from the mid 18th century. You can see it with one leaf up in yesterday’s post. First to be cleared in the ‘disaster’ zone was the table; I just ate what remained on it from ‘the feast’ for breakfast 😂).

Eclectic musical taste?

But to return to the Vienna New Year concert (you get the idea I have a somewhat eclectic taste in music? Though ‘classical’ is top for me). The tv on which we watch and listen to the New Year concert is in what I term our ‘musical corner’; you might see two Romanian nai (panpipes) in some pictures, one tourist and one for a musician, as well as a harmonica; under that, unseen, is a piano, ‘hifi’ and a large collection of LPs, orchestral and opera. CDs are next to it.

One of the things I love about the Vienna concert is the ballet sequences; I’ve been an avid follower of ballet since my Grandmother took me to my first, Swan Lake, when I was seven years old (so you can imagine how pleased I was that Darcey Bussell was made a ‘Dame’ in the New Year Honours). The grace and beauty of ballet I saw in gymnastics when the Romanian team was preeminent so gymnastics are now the only sport I’m really interested in. You might say that ballet is now my second favourite art form, the first being music itself, whether instrumental or sung.




An innovation this year was an informative trip through Vienna with a young lady on a bicycle, calling at many of the most notable venues in this wonderful cradle of music. I enjoyed that.

This year’s conductor of the New Year concert was Ricardo Muti, not who conducted the first one Petronela and I saw together in 1998 but he who conducted the concert in the year of our marriage – 2000.


New Year’s Eve is a special celebration for us: it is my wife Petronela (P)’s birthday, which in accord with Romanian tradition means ‘open house’, the table spread with Romanian food. No invitations are issued, friends and neighbours just ‘know’

Romanian food

The day before is a busy one for P as generally she does all the Romanian (specifically Moldovan) cooking but this year I attempted a favourite of mine – răcitură (known as ‘piftie’ in other parts, pieces of meat in ‘aspic’ – in this case pork though I prefer with cockerel or, even better, goose). Of course you can make it with commercially available gelatin but I was determined to make traditionally so was on a hunt for pigs’ trotters (feet) and ears. I was amazed when a butcher in Leeds Kirkgate market suggested the only place I would find them was in the pet shop. “Are you are butcher?” I asked. Fortunately there are ‘proper butchers’ in Bradford so I was able to pick up both trotters and ears on my way to hospital on Thursday (see previous post). The result must have been OK: my Romanian neighbour (Moldoveancă – lady from Moldova) ate almost a whole dish. Something new for me, at the suggestion of my Latvian blogger friend Ilze I ate some with mustard and vinegar. Delicious!

Table with Romanian food, awaiting guests

For those unable to come to ‘the party’ Facebook and other internet applications have created a different way for wellwishers to join in: at the last count over 150 people had written their birthday messages on Petronela’s ‘timeline’ to which must be added more than 30 private messages, some internet live chats and the odd phone call. What on earth would you do with that number of birthday cards?

Birthday girl early

Birthday girl later

London Fireworks

Guests gone (the last at 11pm) we turned on the tv at 11.55pm, popped the ‘bubbly’ at 00.00, then watched the London fireworks as we always do. Of course, with friends in other parts of the world I was sending New Year wishes at 00.00 before and after according to other timelines

Nile Rodgers (pic Rollingstone)

Nile Rodgers and Chic – better music

A big musical step up from previous years, bracketing the fireworks, for me was Nile Rodgers performing with Chic, celebrating their 40th year. Dreadlocks flying, he ensured we stayed awake to finish the bubbly. The likes of Gary Barlow, Bryan Adams and Robbie Williams – as in previous years – don’t cut it for me, boring me to sleep! Queen better!

I’m now going to do something I never did before, stop this post here and continue – with a completely different type of musical experience with a lot of personal history behind it, in another post – probably tomorrow.

Daniel’s cafe/bistro Ilkley is not run by Daniel but by his daughter Miruna and her husband. The name is a tribute to Miruna’s father who runs a hotel in our other favourite place, the Romanian Bucovina, specifically in the spa town (a bit like Harrogate) of Vatra Dornei.

We decided to visit this small but cosy coffee shop by day, a ‘bistro’ in the evening, yesterday afternoon. The cakes are ‘interesting’, yesterday’s were with butternut squash or pumpkin, but neither is ‘my cup of tea’ as we say so I opted for the Romanian sponge with apple and plums, the only truly Romanian cake on offer. With the first taste it took me back to my ‘honorary grandmother’s’ house near Câmpulung Moldovenesc, about 30km from the spa town, where we twice stayed for a while during our summer break. She makes an identical ‘cake’ (in fact it’s more like a pudding).

If a new visitor to Ilkley don’t stop at the Cow & Calf rocks and a walk on Ilkley moor but continue on the moorland road for some wonderful views. Here’s as we decend into our village

Romanian chocolate cakes

Unfortunately, not liking anything with fruit Petronela settled for just one of the excellent coffees. It’s a pity there are not more Romanian cakes, particularly chocolate cakes of which there are many: chec negru (black cake), amandine, mascota and others. All excellent and any one of them would have suited Petronela. There had been brownies, sold out, but for me the Romanian version is better: boema, chocolate cake soaked in a caramel syrup and topped with a ganache and ‘frișcă’ – sweetened whipped cream. It’s certainly more indulgent for any chocoholic.

But the main reason for a visit to Daniel’s if you are in Ilkley is the Romanian (more exactly Bucovinian) welcome. You will not find a more hospitable, friendly people anywhere and it hasn’t been diminished at all by being transplanted in Yorkshire.

Something I particularly like is Miruna’s tribute to her father, posted on a window. That also is very typically Romanian. Having been lucky enough to meet him on a previous visit, we can confirm he’s a great guy.

Daniel’s cafe/bistro has a website:

Don’t miss it (not open every day – see website) if you visit this lovely small Yorkshire town. If you’re lucky Miruna will have taken my hint and have more Romanian chocolate cakes!

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.

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