I was told that the clocks were going to change at two o’clock this morning. I waited up and watched them intently but nothing happened. Not a sausage. My kitchen clock did move on by a minute but it does that at two o’clock every morning. I have been studying this for some time and I have recorded the results in an exercise book, which I will publish in a future instalment of my blog if anybody’s interested. I found this morning’s non-event to be the biggest anti-climax since I turned up at the starting line of the 2002 Whitbread Round the World Race without realising that I’d need a yacht. A minor detail that was overlooked today was the fact that clocks had to have knobs and buttons physically twiddled and pressed and this change didn’t just happen automatically, except on Orwellian-type gadgets like mobile phones, laptops and digital pop-up toasters. The good news that emerged from this strange phenomenon was that we all got an ‘extra hour’. I spent my extra hour manually adjusting all my clocks.
The point of this, apparently, is to provide working people with an extra hour of daylight at the beginning of each day. Well that’s all well and good for those people who lead normal lives and leave their houses early in the morning, but for me it’s just a cause for concern. I’ve just bought some new curtains and I’m worried that an extra hour of daylight will make them fade.
There may well be an extra hour of daylight in the mornings, at least for three weeks, but it also means that we have an extra hour of darkness in the evenings. When I did used to lead a normal life, this put me in the depressing situation of having to leave my house for work before it had got light and return home after darkness had fallen; all in a country where even the light bits of the days tended to be dark.
Now that I am living in the sunny Republic of Bulgaria, I don’t get depressed about this clock change nonsense anymore because my life here is such that I don’t need to go to work, so I never get up in the dark (except to go for a wee and then return swiftly to bed) and the winters here are quite exciting. When it’s not dark it’s usually sunny, sometimes it’s sunny and there’s half a metre of snow on the ground, sometimes the weather is grey and wet but never for very long and always at the end of all the Arcticness there is a long hot summer to look forward to. For the first time in my life I really don’t mind the end of the daylight-saving thing. I think we should do the timepiece adjustment every Sunday for twenty-four weeks during the darker months, then over the course of time there’d be no need to change the clocks at all and we’d have regular extra hours to do special things in.
Three days ago, we had Saint Dimitar’s Day, which apparently heralds the beginning of winter. The word on the mythological street is that Saint Dimitar, "master of frost and snow", rides a red horse and the year's first snowflakes fall from his white beard. I have yet to see a red horse or a snowflake here in Malki Chiflik, but I find the day a useful reminder that the time when we have to change our clocks is almost upon us, just in case 99% of the people who have nothing better to say on Facebook forget to remind me.
Hallowe’en isn’t part of the Christian Orthodox calendar so we don’t have it here in the Republic of Bulgaria. Or at least we didn’t until the fall of Communism in 1989 and the subsequent wave of western consumerism that came along to erode our country’s beautiful old culture. There’s not much sign of it really. Just a few pathetic plastic pumpkins with smiley faces and blood stained severed limbs on hooks at the ends of supermarket aisles near the fruit and veg and the fresh meat counters, which causes quite a bit of confusion amongst shoppers. I heard Mrs Ivanova the other day asking a young lady assistant what veg goes best with a zombie’s foetid hand. Parsnips, apparently!
The kids in my village don’t bother with this at all, probably on account of so many of them being of the Muslim faith. I’m a little disappointed about this lack of enthusiasm for the observance of All Hallows’ Evening. When I lived in England I used to buy a big bag of those Miniature Heroes chocolatey things to hand out to trick or treat callers and the bag was always far too big to ever be exhausted by their meagre demands, which meant that I didn’t need to cook anything for my tea on Hallowe’en e’en. Since my move to Eastern Europe I have more time on my hands so I thought I’d put a bit more effort into joining in the festivities. Last week I even went to the lengths of buying a chainsaw to entertain, in a horror sort of way, the miniature heroes who might knock on my door in hope of a treat, convinced that a mad foreigner bearing a lethal power tool would be the high point of their evening. I can’t understand why no one turned up. The chainsaw serves a dual purpose as I also use it for cutting up the piles of dead wood that have accumulated in my barn down the years which I can now use as winter fuel. I only wish I had invested in such a powerful device back in the days when I used to earn a crust from hacking away at grotesquely thick fungal toenails. In the world of the Foot Health Practitioner, every day is Hallowe’en.
Like it or not, Saint Dimitar has been and gone and the evenings are lengthening rapidly. This, however, gives me more time to make plans for winter, the most crucial part being the stocking up of the cupboards. Mistakes have been made in the past. Last year I stocked myself up and then ate all the stock before winter had properly kicked off, so I need to remember to keep on stocking. I’ve learned that filling the larder with stock entails much more than buying a big box of Oxo cubes and that, due to the fact that they are not food items, toilet rolls and personal grooming products can easily be missed off the shopping list. I hate to think that when mountain rescue people come to dig me out of my snow-stricken home, my hair might be flopping about in my eyes or I haven’t been able to floss.
Last winter was a bit of a life changing experience for me. I am told that it was the hardest winter in Bulgaria since 1947 so I picked a fine time to take the icy plunge. Call me a fool for making assumptions but I’ve convinced myself that this winter won’t be as bad and, as it is my second winter, I will be better prepared. I’ve done some serious insulating and draft-proofing work around the place, some new doors are coming next week to make the downstairs part of the house a bit less open-plan, I’ve invested in a bigger and more efficient petchka (wood burning stove) to supplement the smart and tarty electrical heating system that costs me so much money, I’ve built up extra layers of body fat during the summer which I can use to keep me warm and possibly even rend down to spread on toast during the bitterest depths of the season and I have acquired two cats which I can send out hunting for fresh meat but more likely use as natural hot water bottles when I put my feet up with a book of an evening and they sit on my knee and snore and fart.
During an almighty blizzard it takes more than food and drink to ensure survival. The mind needs to be stimulated too. Last winter my mind didn’t stop churning over the numerous ways in which I might die in the big freeze. Would the ton of snow on the roof make it cave in and crush me to death, would I be eaten alive by yetis or rats, would I drown in my vast store of rakia or would my bum stick to the frozen toilet seat? The possibilities were endless so my brain was kept permanently active to the point that I didn’t even have time to do the crossword in the Veliko Tarnovo Advertiser, not even when my bum was frozen to the toilet seat. This year I am much more relaxed about my relaxation time as I will be trying to make a dent in the shelves full of music CDs and unread books that I brought here with me from Britain. I write a lot more of this blog nonsense when it’s too cold to go outside, I have a small but perfectly formed musical instrument tucked away that I’m not going to tell anybody about until I can get a tune out of it, I’m going to have a crack at some painting (possibly a couple of works of art but at the bare minimum the downstairs toilet) and there’s the belly dancing lessons with my Turkish neighbours, though I’m surprised no one has taught them how to do this before now.
Keeping myself amused during the long dark nights of
a Bulgarian winter.
I’m even prepared for the winter battle against wildlife. The insect aspect of the struggle has mostly died down now and, although the rodent battle rages on, I feel I constantly have the upper hand. However, I have a new problem in that a woodpecker has discovered that the eaves above my back door are particularly tasty and he pecks away like a woodpecker possessed if I don’t go out there regularly and threaten to make cider out of him. I know he’s a him because he’s so brightly coloured. Lady woodpeckers tend to be a bit drab, which makes me think they might have migrated here from Berkshire. My home-destroying woodpecker is such a gorgeous creature that I’m tempted to invite him inside the house and give him some proper food, like millet and cuttlefish or possibly even throw a wine and cheese and oak party. I have it from a reliable source that the woodpecker is not really the problem. The problem is that the wood he pecks at is probably a little bit rotten (although it looks quite sound to me) and my hard-nosed friend is just pointing out that I need to do something about it at the same time as filling his brightly coloured fat belly with the family of grubs that dwell within my timbers. This is another aspect of living with nature in a foreign land that I hadn’t envisaged and I can’t help but wonder what is next. I haven’t yet been attacked in any way by a fish.
The big improvement in my situation since last winter is that I now know more of the people in my village, so should climatic extremes put my life in danger, or should I run out of things to wipe my bottom with, I know they will always be there to help. My dear friend Abdullah who lives over the road from me always has half a cigarette behind his ear and I’m sure that if all else failed he would gladly light it to keep us warm.