Sunday, August 10, 2014

England Trip

November 2013 we had booked flights for me to go to England, for a week, so I could see my family and return with Paul's youngest 2 children, Ruby & Jim.    Although Ruby is old enough to fly alone the airlines  will not let her supervise her younger brother, they use age as a deciding factor, despite Ruby being more responsible than some people, at least, 10 years older than her.

Because of my flight time, from Sofia, I had the option of getting a middle of the night train and spending 9 hours at the airport or travelling up the day before and booking into a hotel.    Although Sofia is Bulgaria's capital city the Hotel Accord does rooms with breakfast for 39 leva (about £17), 9 hours at the airport would have cost me more than this, through sheer boredom.     I arrived at the hotel about 10pm and after dropping my bags in the room went down for dinner - 2 starters and a beer for 10 leva (less than £5), I dread to think how much an overnight hotel and dinner would have cost me in London.    A leisurely buffet breakfast, with unlimited coffee, was followed by a taxi to the airport as late as possible, I dislike the waiting around involved with air travel.   Because I was travelling with British Airways I had a 23kg baggage allowance plus  a cabin bag plus a personal bag, on the journey to the UK my cabin bag was IN my rucksack, I planned on coming back with books for Ruby amongst other things.

At Heathrow I left security and re-entered to check how long it took, so I would know if I had time to go through security with Ruby & Jim on the return flight (I was taking a connecting flight from Newcastle).   The security took so long I realised I would need to meet them airside so just hoped the fact that I would make sure we had seats together when I checked in would be enough for the airline to let them through unsupervised.  Despite me informing my mother that in addition to no pasta I wanted no fuss during my visit my arrival in Newcastle turned out to be a family affair.

Talk about embarrassing. 

I had taken a list of things that would be better obtained in the UK which my mother interpreted as I needed a week of retail therapy.    I nearly didn't get time to have an eye test - more expensive than having one here but we'd heard so many bad things about wrong glasses being prescribed I didn't want to risk it.  My eye test results weren't as scary as I'd been expecting, a reasonably mild prescription for reading glasses.  What was scary was trying to see anything in the distance with them on, they make the whole world blurry.

Because my baby sister was at work during my visit we had a lovely evening out, catching up with what was happening with each other, over Italian food and wine.   The following night was another meal out this time with mum, sister and various children to celebrate Vikkis birthday.   Day times passed in a whirl of shops but I did manage to buy some tins of paint at 20% of their RRP, neutral colours with feature walls.    Sounds a bit silly planning colour schemes when I didn't even have a roof on the house but I needed something to work towards that was a bit   none essential.   I also found, and bought  some Volkswagen wallpaper, we just need to decide where that will go, eventually.    The results of raiding mum's attic and the shopping trips means that a local transport company are bringing about 6 boxes over for us on their next trip.    Some things just couldn't wait until then, in addition to the books Ruby wanted to read Nutella, Peanut Butter, a selection of cheeses, window putty and some replacement swimming trunks for Paul were packed into the rucksack, along with various other bits and pieces.   I should have packed the peanut butter into the boxes coming over in September as Jim seems to be on a mission to finish the jar off during his five weeks here.   As I was spending my birthday in airports and planes my baby sister decided we were all going for a Chinese the night before.   I was pleasantly surprised my niece, and her daughter, came along and had a great time getting a one year old to eat rice off chopsticks.    Airport departure was much more sensible, than arrival,  with only mum there to make sure I left the UK.

My flight, to Heathrow, was late taking off and then we had problems on landing, we were sitting on the tarmac waiting for a gate when Jaye (Paul's ex-wife) 'phoned me to see what was happening.   As a plane was blocking our designated gate we ended up taxiing to the international  terminal to be bussed back to domestic, I was not allowed to enter the terminal at international  so had a mad dash back over there after being disembarked at domestic arrivals.    I had told Jaye that the safest course of action was as soon as a gate number was displayed for our flight, to Bucharest, she should send the kids through security with instructions to go straight to the gate, and I'd meet them there.    As I reached international departure lounge I 'phoned Jaye to let her know and she told me the kids had gone through security and we were departing from Gate 20 (this information wasn't yet displayed in the departure lounge).    When I reached the gate the kids weren't there so I walked part of the way back to security,  if I'd walked further there was a chance that we would miss each other because of the escalator layout.   30 minutes later there was still no sign of the kids and only 10 minutes until boarding, I found out it is impossible to put out a tannoy message airside without it being heard landside other than one for the immediate vicinity of the departure gates.    I was beginning to seriously panic when Ruby and Jim came running around the corner, their mum had told them to wait at security for me.    Luckily Ruby saw the announcement signs saying the flight was beginning to board and decided that as we were being collected from Bucharest airport they'd go and see their dad whether I made the flight or not - smart kid.

Previously the kids had flown with Sleazyjet so British Airways, with inclusive food and drinks  was a pleasant surprise for them.  After an uneventful flight we arrived at Bucharest  airport, where we got another stamp added to the kids  passport,   and following an excessive wait for our hold baggage exited to find Paul and the neighbour who'd driven him up waiting for us.    The drive home seemed to take forever and although the roof was nearly finished I was slightly disappointed to learn we still had builders on site.    Paul had been warned that ignoring my birthday was not a sensible option so had found the time to make me a sign, which I appreciate more than if he'd gone out and just bought something (he still needs to make me a wooden pendant though)

Despite the builders on site and the fact that we still had lots of work that needed doing, so the kids wouldn't have the holiday they were expecting, it was good to be home.

Warm friendly feelings

Pauline and Guillaume arrived back Tuesday evening, we met them in Popovo and went for a meal with the intention of finding out what their plans were before they saw the house and decided to stay and help.    Unsurprisingly they had already discussed the situation and decided they were staying for as long as we needed them, this was a situation we wanted to avoid as they had places they wanted to visit and a limited timescale, at the same time we were very grateful as just having them around raised our spirits.   On the Wednesday I  helped Pauline establish a field kitchen, in the gazebo we had been loaned, whilst Paul and Guillaume walked around the damage coming up with a plan of action.  I 'd offered to wash their bedding whilst they were away, as they'd had problems washing it in streams and getting it dried whilst travelling.  I felt terrible telling Pauline that one of her pillowcases had obtained a scorch mark which she took as an opportunity for telling us off for not using Martin  for sleeping and showering,  she didn't understand that we couldn't as they weren't around to give permission.

The builders had given us a price to put the roof on the main house based on us removing the remaining roof timbers, attic joists and ceilings, ie take the roof back to the top of the first floor walls.   Guillaume was invaluable during this time, as although I had been up ladders since the fire I hadn't overcome my fear of them and dreaded working on the roof alongside Paul.    To remove  the attic floors we first needed to remove the plaster from the ceilings and then use long handled tools to push the lathes upwards, causing a fall of wood and dirt, it's one of the few jobs where we actually used the dust masks and safety goggles we kept around for helpers.  A dirty job but someone needed to do it and we were lucky that four of us worked well together achieving a lot in a relatively short space of time.


Despite all the hard work Pauline reintroduced a sense of civilisation with 'proper' lunch breaks and interesting conversations around the table.   We'd already had a discussion following Pauline and Guillaume offering to split the shopping bills with us that I  thought had been resolved by saying I would be offended if people staying in my home felt they had to buy their own food, beer and cigarettes fine but food was my department.     Pauline had been looking for a particular type of material so when she asked if they could borrow the car on Friday morning I just assumed that they wanted to check out the Friday market.     Humph, they returned with carrier bags full of food, along with premade banitsas for lunch, much to my annoyance they 'couldn't remember' how much we owed them.    I accepted their generosity with bad grace and made sure that every time I needed to go into town, to try and sort out the electric, I picked up some tobacco for them.

We had also sent my friend Diana a message telling her our house was now a convertible, like her car,  although we were having problems raising the roof.    She had booked a weeks holiday with us starting the 21st of June, a week after the fire, to see the progress we had made during the 2 years since her last visit (3 months after we first moved in).    Her response was as long as the sun was shining and she could get a tan she was coming, as long as it was all right with us.

Diana arrived Saturday evening and I think she was a bit shocked at how much damage our home had sustained, even her sun roof was cluttered with rubble and materials.   Despite her, well deserved, reputation as a diva and the fact she brought white flip flops with her Diana was brilliant at borrowing some of my clothes and a pair of trainers and helping us remove plaster from the walls.    Probably her most valuable contribution at this time was telling me when she felt like slapping me - this was more often than I'm proud of as lack of sleep and stress is no excuse for the times I verbally lashed out at Paul.   Also not an excuse but a feeble explanation is the fact that Guillaume and Paul knew what they were doing,  I couldn't get the electric connected which the builders said they needed to reinstall the roof and I was feeling useless and out of control.    My only purpose seemed to be to get the boys whatever tool they needed and to feed them.    Pauline also was experiencing  some frustration at this time as a lot of the work that the boys told us we could do required a physical strength neither of us possess.     Message for the males out their - it's NOT helpful when you see your partner struggling and you come along and say 'do it like this' (when that's how you showed us in the first place),   that's how we were doing it so seeing you make it look easy just makes us feel more inadequate.

10 days after their return from France Pauline and Guillaume decided it was time for them to move on.    Although their decision made us sad it was inevitable and to some extent a relief,  we had reached a stage  where the work needed doing was lots of little unsatisfying jobs, both of them were tired and we could see it putting strains on their relationship, thankfully those tensions seem to have disappeared since their departure from Lomtsi.    Recent communication implies they will be returning to Lomtsi, in a year or so, this gives Paul and myself so much pleasure to hear.   Diana left the day after Pauline and Guillaume and has already booked in her visit for 2016, as long as we don't burn the roof off the week before her visit.    7 days after Diana left I was due to fly to England to see my family and return with Paul's youngest 2 children, possibly because of this and our dip in spirits following our friends departures we pottered around doing little jobs but not seeming to achieve much, although the builders were now on site and work on the roof was starting.   We did have a visit from Energo Pro which resulted in another visit to the main Targovishte office - because the reconnection of our electricity was such a farce it's getting its own blog entry.   We also obtained a Bulgarian sim for Pauls phone, as I was taking my phone with me to England, anyone we didn't send the number to please let us know (assuming you want it).

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Razing the Roof

13th June 2015 Roof Raising Party planned, as Friday the 13th June 2014 was a full moon and the date our  roof got razed.

So just after 5am I smell smoke, see a small fire in barn, centred on the broiler chick enclosure and run back inside to scream at Paul, waking him up.   Once I knew he understood the situation (he's not at his best first thing) I returned to the barn to see if we could contain/extinguish the fire.    Some sparks had caught a bale of hay so I went to try and push that away from other bales, unfortunately I miscalculated and pushed it too close to the fire which Paul was dousing with buckets of water and the fire flared up.    Even if I hadn't made such a silly mistake we had little chance of extinguishing the fire as the water source was too far away although Paul is still more horrified that I got myself into a position  of having a fire between me and the exit than the fact  I fed the fire.

Once I exited the barn, Paul was still fighting the fire, I went to main house to wake Marcus and Sarah so they could help - we still thought we had a chance of extinguishing the fire, however on return to the compound it was obvious the fire was gaining ground so when the appeared I just shouted at them to let the animals out of the other outbuildings (only the sheep lived in the main barn).    Give them they due despite all their other failings they not only opened all the exterior doors but also went into Rabbit Ritz and opened each cage door.    A decision was made to call the fire brigade and start removing personal possessions from our bedroom, next to the barn,  Marcus and Sarah were advised to remove all their possessions from the main house.  

Paul reversed my van away from the barn, even so the front end melted a bit, IF you know where to look.    So what's the first things you would grab if your house was burning?  Mine were passport, mobile and laptop (means of communication) and Paul's electric guitar?????????    next trip into the house was for more practical items like clothing.    I think I managed 4 trips leaving stuff by door for Paul to move to safety before paying attention to him screaming at me that I needed to get out,  as he was leaving by the front door the electric cables burnt through and dropped just missing him.    Throughout the process of grabbing clothes i had been trying to get through to emergency services.    The number is 112 NOT 121 (which is vivacom customer services)    112 is now stored on my mobile under 'emergency'     After failing to dial the right number, repeatedly, I went across to Baba Bonners and knocked her up, luckily despite my complete inability to remember any relevant Bulgarian words she grasped the situation and called emergency services.

Within an hour the barn roof was well on fire, the fire was spreading along the extension roof and into the main house roof.    The fire brigade arrived within an hour from Popovo, 16k away,  I'm sure I listened to the sirens for at least 30 minutes wondering if they were driving around aimlessly looking for us.     All we could do during this time was move vehicles and stand with our Bulgarian neighbours and watch our home burn,   we may have shed the odd tear or 2.   Martin, Pauline and Guillaume's van, was moved further away from the house and Baba Bonner's grandson helped push Paul's car further from the house, we hadn't picked up the keys during our exodus.    It sounds weird but having our neighbours watch with us was reassuring, especially as Iliya didn't skimp on hugs for both of us during this period.    Marcus and Sarah, yes they got out of the house safely, with all their possessions and proceeded to stand apart from everyone else until Shelley, our English neighbour, came up.    She apologised that she couldn't stay and help but needed to go into Popovo in a few hours, it was organised that she would take Marcus and Sarah to the hostel there, so they returned to her house with her.    I later found out they contacted their next hosts who agreed to them arriving early, so after they had showers and breakfast Shelley took them to the train station.    

Some  English friends arrived, from 30k away, I'd phoned them at silly o'clock, in my panic at not being able to contact the fire brigade.   Although I have no photographs of the blaze and fire fighters at work Peter did get some photos, which he has said he will give us at a later date.     Peter and Claire were brilliant,  I can't say exactly how but they got us through the day.    By the end of the day with the help of another English couple the 6 of us had managed to empty out the kitchen and our living/bedroom so the extension had nothing in that could suffer water damage.   Pete asked if he could put the situation on Facebook, saying we needed help,  we agreed as long as it was emphasized ALL we need was physical help removing our possessions from the main house.     We also needed tarps and tents, to protect the property and us, but luckily our friends and the wider ex-pat community came to the rescue loaning us  items we have been very grateful for since that day.    We also received offers from people, Bulgarian and English, offering us the use of their homes,   we accepted Shellies offer of sleeping there, as it's only a minutes walk away and we could still be around for the animals.   Sunday we received some tents, on loan, so could move back home.

Saturday, Pete and Claire returned along with some more acquaintances who  live about 30k away,   Sunday in addition to the people from Saturday friends from further afield arrived and by Sunday night the main property was emptied with our possessions placed under tarps on the summer kitchen extension flat roof.     Sunday also brought a Dutch friend who brought along a builder to assess the damage.    Everyone was knackered and it was agreed that nobody would turn up Monday allowing Paul and myself a chance to view the damage and plan the way forward.

 Monday I had to put out another shout for help as we had heavy rains and high winds and I couldn't stop crying imagining all the stuff we've removed from the property being ruined by water damage.    We also remembered to send Pauline and Guillaume a text letting them know about the fire and informing them that if they arrived back by hitching, rather than us collecting them from town, it looked worse than it was.

Tuesday saw the arrival of familiar faces and new people, we'd never met before,  who were supplying us with either safe storage facilities or transport to those facilities.

Not a nice thing to have happened and  even though I'm still 'delicate' about the situation the whole episode (ongoing) gives us faith in humanity.    There are many more caring nice people in the world than the rest, whatever the media would have us believe.

Awesome and not so awesome

Pauline and Guillaume mud plastered the end wall, a skill they had specifically requested the opportunity to learn.   They also weeded and organised and generally fitted in with whatever needed doing, finding jobs that we hadn't been aware off, like replacing the bottom gate into the animal compound, with hindsight the condition of the original one is probably why we always used the top gate. 
  Guillaume is very experienced with working in wood and took great pleasure in learning how to use the lathe although Pauline seemed to 'take to it' with more ease.     I'm not sure if it was as a result of not finding a tool he needed or something else but Guillaume instigated the organisation of our workshop and tool boxes, we still think fondly of him when we find tools without going through 4 tool boxes.   I'd asked if it would be possible for me to have some steps from the garden into the field  Pauline and Guillaume delivered so much more.

  What I expected

What I got in addition to the steps

Guillaume had found the remains (he thought) of a stone wall when excavating for the steps and asked he could explore further.     We love it when helpers show initiative and create their own projects - the results are normally outstanding.

Beginning of June Paul and myself needed to go to VT to collect 24 broiler chicks, Pauline and Guillaume had already discussed with us modifying the shower, to stop an occasional overflow so we left a note defining for Marcus and Sarah the area that needed weeding next.  We returned at lunchtime to find the area completely untouched although Sarah had totally cleaned the kitchen, however we still don't know, to this day, what Marcus spent the morning doing although he did tell us he'd been assisting the French Foreign Legion.  

We did wonder if the fact that Guillaume and Pauline were creative and enthusiastic was what was making us view Marcus and Sarah in a less than positive light, afterall even Paul and myself were feeling inadequate next to the French energy and cheerful natures.   As neither Marcus nor Sarah expressed an interest in any particular area, despite being directly asked, they got a lot of weeding jobs which resulted in me losing a lot of my garlic plants - surely they would have noticed after 2 or 3 plants and not removed EVERYTHING from a 30 foot row.   This in addition to the fact that Marcus had informed me he had a lactose intolerance and I cooked to accommodate that only to watch him add cheese to every meal resulted in Paul and myself to give him and Sarah a couple of days after Pauline & Guillaume went to France before considering asking them to leave early.     

Pauline and Guillaume returned to France 11th June, leaving Martin (the van) with us.     Their thinking was if they returned with Martin everyone would assume their travels were over and it would be harder for them to leave again.     Within 24 hours of them leaving Paul and myself realised we needed to ask Marcus and Sarah to leave early, possibly Marcus spent so long Coachsurfing he thought Helpx was the same arrangement.

Marcus and Sarah did leave the morning of the 13th although not exactly as planned.     I woke shortly after 5am and smelt burning - we had a barn fire.    First priority was obviously making sure Paul woke up.