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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.

diaryRomanians in general are quite superstitious; Petronela is no exception and with that in mind the number 17 has become pretty significant for us. So, she assures me that the coming year will be good for us, because:

  • It’s 2017
  • We live at number 17
  • In Romania we lived at number 17
  • We’ll celebrate our 17th anniversary this year
  • P was born in ’71 (deci 17 reversed!)
  • Whenever P wins on Lotto, only ever a small amount so far, including New Year’s Eve, her selection includes the number 17

There are possibly a few more but I can’t bring them to mind for the moment.

Romania, Romanian doctors and medication

Towards the end of 2016 the year became better as a very poor prognosis for me earlier in the year was revised to be much better and new medication (thank God for the NHS; I’m told it costs around £2,000 a month!) has resulted in me feeling better than for two or three years (though I think that 6 weeks of Romanian summer and food had something to do with that too! I’d add to that, odd as it may seem, ending up in A&E my first day in Romania, when the wonderful Romanian doctors identified why long journeys were causing me a problem, so now I can take preventative steps).

I had a lot of problems getting in the ‘Christmas spirit’ last year, with the slaughter and starvation of children in Syria and the Yemen, to mention just two, let alone the events in France and Germany. I’ll probably return to this in future posts.

To end on a happier note, I can do no better than end with my New Year’s post on what I think is the best social media site (I’m excepting WordPress), blipfoto, when I ‘blipped’ a photo of our ‘musical corner’, where the tv sits. I returned to this wonderful community, which has none of the ‘crap’ so often evident on Facebook, just before Christmas after a long health-enforced absence (it’s based on keeping a photo diary). I don’t privatise my posts on this so if you’re interested you can probably find ‘realgrumpytyke‘ there.

The world stops for Vienna (my 1 January ‘blip’)

vienna99-17

Little did Petronela’s younger sister (RIP) know what she was starting when she insisted that I, then a volunteer teacher staying alone in the school hostel in 1999, be invited to spend New Year’s Day with the family. We watched the Vienna New Year’s concert together, P and I married about 18 months later, and we have watched the Vienna concert together every year since that first time.

The concert combines two of my great loves, so-called ‘classical music’ and classical ballet, a love affair probably begun when I was about 7 years old, being taken to live performances at Bradford’s St. George’s Hall and the Alhambra by my grandmother after years of listening on the ‘steam radio’ and wind-up gramophone.

I think there was less ballet this year but it was great to see flashbacks to earlier years in this year’s concert, including ‘our year’, and to see students from the Vienna State Opera Ballet Academy dancing among the audience.

Thankfully no CCTV in our flat to catch P and I dancing/clapping to the Rodetzsky March in our pyjamas (the concert did start as early as 11.15am!).

PS. I see that unthinking I slipped in a word of ‘the other language’ – for me Romanian – above. I’ll leave it. We often do that in our conversations as I often cannot think quickly of the English word and P cannot think of the Romanian one! So our conversations are often a garble of the two languages. Very confusing for eavesdroppers.

table1-2

Happy New Year to you all!

La Mulți Ani tuturori!

lobsterChristmas breakfast & dinner – smoked salmon (three varieties), scrambled eggs and champagne; lobster, guinea fowl and chocolate pudding.

This year I intended to do minimal cooking apart from what has become our traditional breakfast (I’ve prattled on about scrambled eggs before so will not do so here and food blogging has really progressed since then) so set out with the idea of buying everything for dinner semi-prepared from Marks & Spencer – always reliable in the food department even if their clothes have gone off track (I blame their following of the common herd and rebranding as M&S!). However, the starter we had chosen was no longer available when I arrived to make the order and no alternatives appealed so I bought a lobster (Kirkgate market is just across the road), which forced me into doing a bit of cooking, making lobster in chaud-froid (summary recipe below).

The champagne (blame Marks and Spencer for the change from our usual Cava; the half price offer was tempting and the result was superb) and the ‘easy carve’ guinea fowl, with pork, leek and smoked bacon stuffing, were excellent. No fancy accompaniments, just roast potatoes, sprouts and cauliflower. The juices from the bird needed no enhancement to be a very tasty sauce. There should have been roast parsnips but they were ‘lost’ somewhere between the market and home!

We managed to make room for some M&S melt-in-the middle chocolate pudding with simple cream about 2 hours after finishing the main course – again very good (neither Petronela nor I like ‘Christmas pudding’).

Bordeaux Blanc and Syrah from Chile

A very good Bordeaux Blanc from Fortnum and Mason and an excellent Chilean Syrah, both gifts so a step up from our day-to-day plonk, completed the table (the second ‘bottle of red’ seen, also a present, is a candle which, apart from the wick, is almost impossible to distinguish from the real thing).

Best present!

One of the things I really love about the run up to Christmas is trying to come up with something ‘special’ for Petronela. Seems this year I succeeded with a cushion, which P has told her friends is “the best present I’ve had ever had”. Eric Clapton’s piece became ‘our song’ well before we married; for people who don’t know Romanian, Ursulețul is ‘The teddy bear’ – no need to tell you who!).

Recipe

Homard en chaud-froid (based on a recipe in my ‘bible’ for classic French cooking for the past 40 years or so – Mastering the Art of French Cooking).

  • Lobster boiled and meat extracted from the body. Claws retained whole for ‘decoration’.
  • Empty shell pieces returned to the liquid with a good slug of the wine to accompany lobster later. Simmered to extract all the flavour, shell drained and liquid reduced until a strongly flavoured stock remains. Body and tail shells cleaned to contain the chaud-froid.
  • Lobster meat chopped into small pieces, fried slowly in butter with a little onion, pinch each of mustard powder and chilli powder, for 2 mins, cognac added then reduced to almost no liquid. Well chilled.
  • A little powdered gelatine soaked in a little of the wine to be served (enough to softly set the sauce).
  • Equal quantities of single cream and the lobster stock simmered with a sprig of tarragon, until reduced to about 3/4. Extract tarragon and correct seasoning if necessary. Stir in softened gelatine until completely dissolved. Leave to cool until almost set.
  • Fold lobster meat into about 3/4 of the sauce, spoon into the shells, spoon rest of sauce over and decorate (I used a few slices of Italian white truffle).

Simples! … and simply delicious.

New Year (Revelion).

New Year is all about Romanian food so it’s Petronela’s turn and now I can relax, almost – cârnați (Romanian sausages) to be made, a joint effort. All prepared before New Year’s Eve which is also P’s birthday so following the Romanian (at least Moldavian) tradition, we stay at home and friends – anybody – can drop in and sample the feast. There’ll be at least a dozen different dishes on the table.

 

 

solitudeAs I said in my post a couple of days ago about social media, very occasionally the unexpected and unrequested intrusions on Facebook are welcome. So it was with a video of Nigel Kennedy‘s performance of his own composition ‘Solitude‘. Not surprisingly it has attracted a few ‘anti’ comments. My own comment, shared to our writers’ club, was:

I think even those of you who do not usually listen to ‘classical’ music might appreciate this. Nigel Kennedy’s own composition, ‘Solitude’, transports me to being alone on some isolated hilltop that I can no longer reach. The piece is dedicated to Yehudi Menuhin, without whose support Kennedy says he may never have played ‘classical’ music. Menuhin, in turn, was taught and supported by the Romanian composer George Enescu, without whom …

I’m hoping that it might prompt some writing from other members. It prompted this 5 minute jotting from me:

Solitude

Being alone
Is not loneliness
For me.
Sitting on some isolated hill or mountain peak
As I used to do
Set thoughts, desperate to escape
Free

A poem, a verse
Tumbling about in wondering head
Till spoken to rocks about, there a while to be.
Being a lover of the ephemeral, not jotted
Words long forgotten
To die, in their happy solitude
With me

I’ve always disliked Facebook. After resisting it for years I finally succumbed when teenagers in a project I ran in the village where I live said it was the best way to communicate with them. For this I created a private group. Later our local writers’ club created a private FB group and that remains very useful.

I have found limited use of Twitter useful too – letting me know of new posts from blogger friends who do not have a ‘follow’ possibility on their non-Wordpress sites but ‘boost’ their posts on Twitter, and to let friends who do not use WordPress, and do not wish to follow by email, of my new blog posts.

But the love affairs with FB and Twitter, if they ever existed, are over. On the other hand, my love for radio has regrown over the past few months. The following rundown refers, of course, to when I am home alone on weekdays.

Twitter

After signing up to FB and Twitter I was rapidly bombarded by ‘suggestions’  for new groups/people to ‘follow’. In Twitter particularly posts appear regularly from organisations or people I have not ‘chosen’. Almost never are these of interest. On the other hand I did sign up to several favourite musicians but most of these are just promotional rather than containing interesting information. Then there are ‘friends’ who rarely post anything original, they just ‘share’ posts from others. Again, these are rarely of interest. In Twitter particularly annoying are multiple, lots, of posts per day, and many repeats; TES (more sensibly named in the past Times Educational Supplement), which I chose to follow because my wife is a teacher, is really irritating in the respect. It’s no longer followed but I continue to follow GuardianTeach. (In the past I unfollowed quite a few WordPress bloggers who blogged multiple times a day and bunged up my reader and/or inbox).

Facebook

As far as FB is concerned, it seems often to bring out the very worst in people. One recent example was prompted by a mildly contentious post on the WordPress site/blog I do for the village in which I live. It concerned an organisation run by someone with whom I am regularly in contact; in fact only a few days before she had emailed me for some help, which I had given. However, when she did not like the post on the village site did she comment there or approach me directly? No, she posted her objection on a village FB page and, of course, this was followed by a host of FBers joining in.

The village FB page, despite the pinned post asking that posts be limited to “Anything that adds life to the village”, probably has more that do not do this than do, and so many are barely disguised advertising. Many have nothing at all to do with the village other than they may have been written by someone who lives in it but often promote events, and businesses elsewhere (and of course self-promotion is rife). I’m only too aware of the problems for the admin to control this. 

Going to ‘home’, the reader is littered with ‘suggested posts’ and advertisements which are almost never of interest, and other ads are often promoting ‘scams’.

Messenger

Something I do like is ‘Messenger’. Very useful for short communications with friends and ‘friends’, including my wife. It’s become even more useful as free WiFi has been introduced on local bus and train services. The telephone and texting have become almost redundant!

Drastic prune underway

I’m sure that anyone running a business should be using FB and Twitter but I do not so they have become more and more irritating and time wasting. Recently I decided to do a drastic prune of both. I am now in the process reducing ‘follows’ to a small number of friends (in the original sense) and an even smaller number of organisations with which I am involved in some way. I’ve not yet completed the job but already my daily FB and Twitter trawl is quicker and much more relevant. One of the first to go was the village FB group mentioned.

Radio

On the other hand a love of radio way in the past has been revived. It’s not perfect, but so much less superficial than tv. The few minute bites on tv usually leave me with a host of unanswered questions; more often than not a radio programme tackling the same subject satisfies my information need.

Classic FM

Most mornings I have Classic FM on the radio; I deliberately did not say I ‘listen’ to it!’ I have found a perfect low volume at which the music is a pleasant background but the majority of presenters’ interjections can be ignored and, even more important, so can the advertisements the perpetrators of which seem to have the view that the Classic FM audience is either senile or stupid.The station has improved a lot recently by running fewer of the assinine ads and also by airing the musical pot-boilers less frequently and introducing me to many new pieces and even previously unknown, to me, composers. I have found that I have a volume control in my head which I can wind up if something interesting or I wish to stop and listen to comes on.

I find the women presenters far more acceptable than the males with one exception, Aled Jones (and every time his rendition of Handel’s ‘Have you heard my lady’ is aired I wind up my in-ear volume control to experience the exquisite tingling in the spine which his voice and amazingly clear diction always provoke). 

At 1pm I switch to BBC4 to catch up on what to the media is the most important news, following which I get a host of facts and opinions on everything from gardening (even though I do not have a garden) to finances, books, science, medicine and the tortuous thinking behind Round Britain Quiz. I don’t switch off the Archers though I might use the 15min intermission to do some urgent small job. Although the 45 minute drama at 2.15pm is of variable quality it is always interesting to me as a would-be writer. I may make it until 5pm at which point I usually turn my attention to preparing the evening meal, often a bit before that.

Of course another advantage of radio over tv is that you can often do other things while listening, as I usually do. When the radio is in ‘background’ mode this includes writing, as now.

TV

At 6pm on goes the tv for the news as we sit down to our evening meal; I stick with BBC 1 mainly because I like to watch Look North, especially if my three favourite presenters – Lara Rostrom, Charlotte Leeming and Tanya Arnold – are on air. Lara is a fairly recent addition (a year?) but Charlotte and Tanya are old hands and whatever else I just enjoy watching the professionalism of all three (Tanya is a surprise as I’m not generally interested in sport!).

Back to blogging

Culling FB and Twitter should, I hope, allow more opportunity for blogging, both reading blogs – usually so much less superficial than FB and T – and writing them – so much more enjoyable!

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

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