St Patrick’s Day today and I guess there’ll be a multitude of  blog posts about it. As Ireland is one of my two favourite countries in the 43 I’ve visited, the other is of course Romania, I have to post something, but what? Last year I posted about a wonderful personal experience in the land of fairies. I might have seen a leprechaun on that occasion but I did have rather a lot of Guinness and Irish whisky; I’ll settle for less today.

I am trying to write a ‘fairy story’ today, as our writers’ club (Writing on the Wharfe) has one of our occasional ‘performances’ in a local library, Ilkley, next Saturday afternoon. Recently we have done it for Spring/Easter, Autumn and Winter/Christmas. It doesn’t have to be a children’s story though it has to be suitable for children. I love writing for them, drawing my inspiration not from the impressive list of Irish story writers but from children I know, daughters of a friend in our village or, on this occasion, and some past, from the daughters of my blogger friend in Latvia. However, back to Ireland … …

Irish writers

It is extraordinary how many Irish writers jump immediately to mind, way disproportionate to the size of this astoundingly beautiful country and people. I just made a list but I’m sure someone will say “what about … …?” I cannot put them, poets, dramatists, short story writers and novelists, in order of preference so I spent a minute putting them in alphabetical order.

Samuel BeckettBrendan BehanRoddy DoyleJohn EnnisOliver GoldsmithSeamus Heaney, James JoyceC. S. LewisLewis MacNeicePatrick McCabeIris MurdochEdna O’BrienLiam O’FlahertyGeorge Bernard ShawBram StokerJonathan SwiftOscar WildeW. B. Yeats.

Personally I’m hard pushed to make such a list for any other nation.

I could, though, make such a list for Romanian poets, they have a language which seems to me perfect for poetry.

Which brings me back to writing and a post earlier today from one of the first bloggers I followed, Romanian; at the time I was struck by how good his written English was and found his writing on writing interesting, which was unusual for me as much as I like to write, reading about writing rarely interests me.

His post today (or rather the one which interested me; he tends to post several times a day, most of which I do not open) is titled ‘Being a writer’ and includes a short video clip of American tv writer Chuck Lorre’s response to being asked for advice to new writers. I’ve never seen one of his sitcoms but what he said hit home:

Write what you love … write what’s real, write what you care about …”

When writing for children I write ‘inspired’ by children I know, so what I write is always based in truth. Those children may not always be entirely ‘real’, though they often are, but my method of writing whether for children or adults is simple: I ‘dream’ of the characters, wait for them to speak to me and write down what they say, do or think. If they don’t speak to me I don’t write, so I cannot follow the advice to write something every day. But as I write for me, with no aspirations to be published more widely than my blog, it doesn’t matter.

PS. Congratulations to the Irish rugby team which beat England today to win their first Grand Slam for 9 years and the third ever.

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.

One of the things I love about WordPress is how a ‘like’ from a previously unknown blogger can take me into new worlds and on paths I’ve not only not explored but never thought about.

So it was that a ‘like’ took me to the Ukraine (I have been there in the real world) and discovered an unlikely blogging couple, Ukrainian/Australian. However, what caught my attention, as someone probably best known in the local writers’ club for writing really short ‘short stories’ – I’m talking of down to 25 words – was that Tatania and Tony write 6 word stories. I just had to have a go, so set myself to write one on the sixth day of each week. Here are my efforts so far.

Friday 2 March:
He walked in, she walked out.

Friday 9 March:
“Shut up”. My fist followed, just in case.

The following story is not so short, about 350 words, but was inspired by a meeting of the writers’ club at which members played around with a ‘story generator’. I left before this so didn’t know the ‘story generator’ was not a computer app but to me that is not the point. I used the occasion to provoke a discussion on the club closed FB group page about using such devices.

I did not use one to generate the following, unless I consider, arrogantly, my brain to be a bit of a story generator. As a journalist I was known for ‘always being able to see the story’.

The Story Generator

That’s a cracking story you wrote. I read it last night – couldn’t put it down.”

Thank you; I wasn’t so sure.” Alan looked at his pal, trying to see in his face whether the admiration was genuine or merely polite.

I wish I could write like you,” Pete continued “I’ve always wanted to write something but I never know where to start.”

Well, if you really fancy writing something why don’t you try a story generator to get you going. It’s a kind of app, some are free. All you do is feed in some words, like names of your characters, what kind of situation they are in – things like that. It’s all prompted so not difficult. Then out comes a basic story for you to work on. It might get you going. I’ll send you a link to a good one.”

Sure enough, when Pete arrived home there was the link in a message from Alan. Forgetting food, he set about answering the prompts.

Name of protagonist?: ‘Pete’ was entered, after a quick diversion to Google to see what the hell protagonist meant.

Come on, come on,” Pete muttered, repeatedly hammering the V key on his ancient computer. Finally he managed to answer the second prompt with ‘Violent’ and the third with ‘Angry’.

Situation?: ‘F’ ‘i’ ‘r ‘e’ was thumped in, accompanied by a tirade of curses directed at the ancient PC.

Second character?: Maybe Alan? No, that’s too easy. I’ll put this bloody thing in he thought as he hammered in ‘Computer’.


The young police constable was clearly uncomfortable as he looked around Pete’s room, trying to ignore the smell, a mixture of Sunday roast and acrid smoke, eyes averted from the charred pile on the floor, hardly recognisable as a corpse. “What do you think happened?”, he asked the fire investigation officer.

Well, it looks as though the PC exploded so, overcome by fumes from the old electronics, he couldn’t find his way out. Strange though how the monitor survived intact, working even.” He read aloud the three words on the screen:

Stuff you Pete!”

Women’s Day’ as a protest day is around a hundred years old, International Women’s Day on 8 March is far younger. Far older than either is the tradition of ‘Ziua Femeii’ – Day of the Woman – in Romania. Apart from my ‘feminist’ tendencies, well known to readers of this blog, it has special meaning for me as it was the day I first arrived in Romania. Over the years, particularly as a teacher, I became used to all female teachers staggering home with arms full of bouquets, including Petronela (my wife).

I wanted this year to mark this day in a different way on this blog having in previous years covered all the protests I could think of and the tradition in northern Romania, perhaps only in the Bucovina, of females receiving mărțișori from the men on 8 March, they having given them to the men on 1 March.

Favourite female authors

So I decided to mention one or two of my favourite female authors, two novels I have recently read and one I am awaiting since a blogger friend told me she had finished her second novel.

The Brontë sisters are no surprise as I was born and brought up near ‘the Brontë village’ – Haworth – and went to school even closer, thus being familiar with the Yorkshire moors evoked so well by Emily. She became my favourite of the sisters and later, as a would be writer, I became fascinated with how she evoked the atmosphere of my beloved moors without ever exactly describing them. The whole of her only novel does that, evoke rather than describe I mean. I must mention one of my favourite ‘detective’ writers too, though her only connection with Yorkshire was her infamous ‘disappearance’ to Harrogate, again not too far from my birthplace. Of course I’m referring to Agatha Christie.

Newer literature

Then, to more modern authors, starting with the novel yet to appear. I bought the first volume, ‘Equinox’ (still available on Amazon), of an intended trilogy by my fellow blogger, Kristina Steiner in Slovenia, prompted probably by the fact she was writing a romantic novel from a point of view on equality in a relationship. Anyway, I have great admiration for bloggers who write in a foreign language, English, in her case not only her blog but her novel. I now await the second book in her ‘Alpha series’.

The most read book in my bookcase is written by a woman, for women, “American housewives” the author declared. It’s not fiction. It’s a cookery book which should be familiar to long term readers of this blog – ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’. Despite cooking recipes from this book for 45 years, I was not aware of the film related to it, Julie & Julia, until recently. Via a tortuous route watching that film led me to a review of another book – ‘The Art of Baking Blind’ by Sarah Vaughan – a book based in a way on cooking but not a cookbook. When the review said it was written “by a women for women” I was irritated enough to buy it. Anyway, it’s only 99p on Amazon so worth a punt.

I enjoyed it enough to buy Mrs Vaughan’s ‘new book’, ‘Anatomy of a Scandal’ published this year. She didn’t disappoint and I learned a lot about the goings on on the other side of Fleet Street to which I worked, where I often wandered down to the Thames but never got into the innards.

The first book should delight any serious cook if only for the numerous cooking tips for classical recipes peppered among the emotional tensions winding us up. They were reminiscent of Julia Child’s authoritative ‘this is the way to do it’ in ‘Mastering the Art …’.

The obvious diligent research of her subject makes both books fascinating but what I would have expected of a journalist of my era. To find it in a journalist of today makes me want to pick up my pen.

I don’t like flash backs but, a feature of both books, I managed to navigate them without getting too lost. I struggled with so many characters in the first book; I was not alone as one reviewer said they resorted to making lists. I didn’t but I did find myself going back sometimes to clarify.

One feature of both books surprised me as Mrs Vaughan seems to be a happily married family woman with an interesting career path: the women in both books are overall strong women; the men are weak or ineffectual (including a Prime Minister).

Overall, four stars from me for each in my Amazon reviews for a good read.

International Women’s Day greetings

So, on this International Women’s Day I send greetings to all the women I follow or who follow me, especially those with whom I have built a closer than usual blogging relationship. They considerably outnumber the men bloggers. More than that, greetings to all women bloggers; keep up the struggle.

A magical day

Today was my ‘baba’, which won’t mean anything to non Romanians nor sadly to many Romanians but I’ll just say that, choosing to go along with this superstition, today was a great day. Magical snow, a fairy land, this morning, succeeded by a sunny blue sky day. Together with another extraordinary ‘happening’ which took me back a quarter of a century – another post in due course – it’s been quite a day. Basically, it means I should have a good year.

The weather brought an unexpected bonus yesterday: with the local village coop low on stocks – almost no fresh fruit and veg, no bread and no milk – and an unwillingness to venture further afield, I was thrown back into what is anyway now my favourite way of cooking. I call it ‘what’s in the cupboard cooking’, though I include what’s in the fridge in that (and if needs be the freezer, but that usually means meat or fish and this concoction was for one of our two a week ‘veggie’ days – Friday).

Having been to Leeds Kirkgate market recently I had a lot of avocados (six for £1 – irresistible). I usually eat them uncooked (I just love them with a simple vinaigrette) but on a snowbound day I thought a warming soup was more appropriate. Thinking how well this strange fruit goes with something hot spicey, like in a good guacamole, I decided on a hot and spicey soup. Also, as it was to be a main course, I wanted it really thick and also added a few chunks of separately boiled potatoes.

Petronela, not the easiest person to please with something new to her, declared the result to be a “super soup” so here’s the recipe. We didn’t need anything more for our evening meal except freshly baked wholemeal bread  but you could serve much smaller portions, without the potatoes and even cold, as a starter. As usual, measurements are approximate as I rarely measure anything (vary the amount of the ‘hot spicey’ things, or leave them out, to suit your taste).


2 large avocado, one small avocado (small for decoration)

2 spring onions

1 large clove of garlic

A chunk of root ginger about as large as my thumb

1 small hot red chilli pepper

1tsp of ground cumin

1 tsp ground  coriander

Small amount of oil or butter (I used Yorkshire rape seed oil)

1 litre of vegetable stock

2 tblsp of sour cream


Cut the spring onions, ginger, garlic and chilli pepper really fine and sweat in the oil with the cumin for a few minutes on low heat (taking care the garlic does not burn).

Add the vegetable stock and simmer for five minutes. Add the ground coriander.

Destone, skin and cut the two large avocados into chunks and drop in a liquidiser. Add the stock and liquidise till it’s a smooth cream. Can be left till required at this point.

To serve heat gently till just at boiling point. Slice and skin the small avocado. When the soup is hot stir in a couple of good tablespoons of sour cream. Ladle into hot soup bowls, float the slices of avocado on top and sprinkle a little chilli pepper on top.


To make a more substantial meal cube some potato (preferably the soft floury type rather than waxy) and boil in salted water until just cooked. Put a serving of potato in the soup bowl before adding the soup.

You could try stirring in some cream cheese, or creme fraiche, instead of sour cream.

If you don’t want vegetarian soup, use chicken stock in place of vegetable stock.

Decorate with fresh coriander leaves if you have them; I did not.



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).

My post of a few days ago was about wandering a little further up the Wharfe Valley than where we live. The final picture in the gallery in that post showed Otley Chevin, at the foot of which nestles our village – Menston. Sunday turned out to be a surprisingly lovely day, fairly cold and a brisk breeze but good for a walk though rather muddy.

Just below the summit, but on the other (east) side is our local airport, the highest in England, in fact I believe the highest in the UK (though there are certainly higher airfields) – Leeds Bradford International Airport. So a walk on the Chevin means you are often ‘buzzed’ by aircraft, more usually landing. You are now often ‘buzzed’ too by that magnificent bird, the Red Kite, though yesterday he didn’t come close enough for a good picture (first pic in gallery). We often see a pair, circling over the village, from our kitchen or sitting room windows.

We often climb up half way on ‘our side’ to the Chevin Inn but yesterday we chose to take the car to the top (5 minutes or so) and walk from there. Not a very long walk, but we were out for about two hours. The final picture is on the road descending to our village, always a welcome sight when I was working in York as I was just a few minutes from home.

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