Monday, 18 March 2019

The circus rumbles on

Muah! Just kidding, they are play fighting again
It has felt like a circus in many ways this week. The article I wrote about last week for Dispatches Europe on living the rural dream in Latvia and what that can mean in reality, was translated into Latvian. Not that I knew anything about it, until a friend posted it on Facebook. The stats for our farm page went through the roof - okay not into the stratosphere but certainly we have seen a lot more activity online and people liking and following our page. At first we didn't know why. Normally we may have a flurry of activity if I advertised it somewhere or told a group about what we are doing, but that would be under 10 folks at a time maybe. So far this last week we've had 53 page likes and 65 page followers and they were mainly Latvians, so more likely to actually visit. In fact we did get visitors this week on a fairly grim and muddy weekend.
Altogether now! Jump!
Looking in

Poor Freddie has a splint on his leg. He is bottom of the
pecking order and he seems to have weak tendons or
ligaments. Not sure what happened but he has to wear
this splint for two weeks. Now just to try and keep it dry in
this weather! When Ian was examining Freddie with a lady who
is coming to learn more about alpacas, he rose up and Brencis
went for Freddie. They had to confine Brencis away in the
alpaca house. Ian wonders if Brencis was trying to protect
him - although in reality there was nothing to protect
from as Freddie really is quite the sweetest little fella. He
was only objecting to being handled, as all of them do.
The circus doesn't end there because there is always Brexit for a complete and utter farce. A German friend of mine with political leanings declared that he wished Britain would just go, so the rest of Europe can get on with planning for the next funding cycle, instead of being sucked into what feels like a never ending story of bewildering ineptitude. I sometimes think that folks in the UK forget that this Brexit process is hugely expensive for everyone, not just the UK. It demands time that could be better spent on fixing some of the myriad problems our nations, continent and world faces. At least students have the right idea by striking to try and concentrate the attention of politicians onto climate change. It doesn't matter whether the UK is in or out of Europe if the future is dire and becoming more inhospitable to mankind. As I mentioned in another article for Dispatches Europe, it is rather like fiddling while Rome burns (you can see my reflections here)
Oh yes! The snow is going properly now and more geese
have been arriving

Suspicious clouds building though
I had an issue this week that could have had disastrous consequences. I had lit the fire and thought it smelt a bit hot. I went to investigate and realised the pump was not on and the fire roaring away. I went to check on the electric and realised it was not on. I called Ian and he told me to check the switch outside the door. It was odd that the door to the switches was slightly open and our switch was down. It is as if someone had switched it off. I have a suspicion why, but I can't be certain and just hope it doesn't happen again.
A smiley George. He looks all sweet and innocent here

Comrades, listen carefully!
I was in a bunker this week, literally 9m underground. There was a university group visiting from London and I was invited to join in. They were mainly students studying for a Masters in Urban Planning, but also finding out about planning issues in the small provincial town of Cēsis. The first part of the day though was finding out about life in a Soviet bunker in Ligatne. One student said it was awful and at first I was a bit confused, but then I realised she felt the whole place was depressing, which it was sort of, but I have got used to the Soviet colour schemes and Soviet decor. These still do exist in some municipal buildings and Soviet apartments. Not all places have been renovated completely yet and like more local visitors, I recognised the wallpaper, floor coverings and even the plastic covers on the tables - I had seen them all before in other places.
1980s Soviet style computing
A child's gas mask

Clothes designer's space
The trip to Cēsis was interesting. We visited Skola6, which is a co-working space and an entrepreneurial starter hub. People can pay for small spaces to experiment with setting up in business or just work with people rather than alone at home. It looked a busy and fun place to be. The lady who started it off was a passionate but modest lady and one of my friends stood up to explain what a remarkable achievement the project was. After a tour to see some of the work going on, I explained to the students what I was doing in Latvia.
The artist who works here, also
displays her work in Berlin

The joys of soggy paddock areas at this time of year
I was treated to a late lunch and then we were off to hear from the municipality about the reality for planning in the town. Cēsis is one of the more successful places in Latvia due to a forward thinking mayor who is not afraid to experiment. We had a lively debate on how these kinds of places can have a detrimental effect on rural areas or can have some positive impacts. It was good to be able to air my concerns about the lack of vision for rural areas and it gave me much to think about. I ended up writing a short report and sending it to my friends who had invited me to see what they think of my vision for creating a positive focus for surrounding rural areas.
Still some ice patches though

Thank goodness we have full ponds and well that is close
to overflowing
We had a sad visit though this week. Our friends who had bought alpacas last year let us know that one of their alpacas had gone into labour, but when Ian rang back he found out it had not gone well. We put our own animals away early and went to see them. The poor little thing was barely alive but there was nothing to be done for it. It had a deformed nose and therefore likely to suffer all sorts of breathing problems. It also had extra feet and totally deformed back legs. It was a genetic mess. The kindest thing to do was to let it go and not fight for this one. The mother fortunately, despite being an old mother, seemed to be in a good state. She obviously realised that her baby was not going to make it, and indeed it breathed its last while we were there. We do hope the next birth does much better for them, but at least it is a younger animal this time that is pregnant. Ian milked the mother so that the colostrum can be frozen in case it is needed later for other births.
Veronica's crew are also suffering
from a wet paddock, but they still do
get out and about

Ian calls this a Chanelapillar - because this caterpillar is
the same colour as Chanel.
The rest of my time has been spent getting my head around the importance of the Baltic Sea to health and wellbeing again. It was swimming around my brain until this afternoon without a clear focus (no pun intended), which is not terribly helpful when I am supposed to be coming up with ideas of what we search for in academic papers. The project's aim is to find evidence that would help policymakers to make good policies for the environment and for people. They don't understand the concepts clearly either, so I need to be able to find a way of thinking about the issues in a way that makes sense to them. Fortunately, as I mentioned, this afternoon the whirlpool of thoughts started to slow down and form some sort of a coherent idea. Let's hope I can do something with it by tomorrow.
Vanessa is getting braver these days. When we had one group
of visitors one of the ladies managed to feed some of the girls
in this group. A major step forward

Monday, 11 March 2019

Winter's last stand?

An icy scene
Is it winter's last stand? Probably not, there maybe more snow again tomorrow, but in between spring peeks out and so did the poet in me
Chanel enjoying the snow. She is starting to show her

Winter’s last stand
The swelling buds speak of times to come
Peeking out from their furry coats
The soft wind whispers, “Soon”
The love-struck birds chirp in echo, “Soon”
The warming rays embrace the earth and murmurs sleepily, “Soon”
Winter screams back “Never!”
Covering the earth once more
In a blanket of white.
But already his power is spent
He recedes
Thrashing into the waters of the raging river.
Losing his grip on the earth once more
Spring rises drowsily from her long sleep
Then racing with abandon
Lights the ground with a creeping verdant layer
Trees rush to embrace the warmth
Bursting with wavering branches,
Unfurling flags of the brightest green
Eager to pronounce the coming season.
Spring has come!
At least we got to see the sun this week
Flags flying in the stiff breeze in Tartu
outside the gym of my university
It has been a week of meetings and writing. I had a meeting with my local colleagues in Tartu on the Tuesday and had the privilege of getting the key to the office for two whole days. I've given it back for now as I won't be up for a little while, or not that I know of anyway. The following day was a bit hectic and started early with a visit to the health centre for my employment health check. Everything was normal, little does she know then. Weight, a tad high because I've put some back on, but normal for my age. Waistline a centimetre too big, but normal for my age. Blood pressure, just towards the higher end, but normal for my age and not too high anyway considering I had to try and find the place first. Anyway you get the idea. I did find out I was a centimetre higher than I thought I was, so a whopping 153cm and not 152cm. Close!
Ian halter training Josefs

A view of the old and new parts of the university
The doctor asked me about the stresses of the job, potential risks etc, Did I have a proper chair to sit at the computer? Do I sit correctly? Errr! Of course... not! But I wasn't going to say that. I have installed an app on the computer to remind me to take my focus off the screen and to get up and move around though. The app started off at every 10 minutes but that drove me mad and so it is now set for every 20 minutes for a microbreak and longer breaks every hour. It still drives me mad, but I embrace the distractions as something necessary. She was surprised that I don't suffer from issues with my wrists as I don't use a keyboard for my laptop. I think I would have more issues with keyboards than my laptop, but each to their own I guess.
It was as cold as it looks

The benches by the river look a little empty at this time
of the year
The health check was an hour long and I had to get a taxi, paid for by the uni, to get to the office to join in the Skype meeting with my international colleagues. I was representing our team as one had to go to the doctors and the other was lecturing and couldn't get out of it - hence the taxi to make sure I was on time. This was followed by another meeting with my local colleagues since they were back in the office by the end of my Skype meeting to fill them in on what had been said. I then had a bit of time to work in the office before heading on down into town to get a bus card so I could then go to the Border Police to collect my new Estonian ID card. Phew!
Just a few days ago and we actually saw
grass, Ian saw some cranes were flying
over and we both saw geese. Today it
is back to white
This morning's sunrise
Thursday morning my friend took me down to the tax office. I had been told to go down there by the university personnel department, so I dutifully complied. I asked the lady at the desk if she spoke English, to which she replied "No!" very firmly. Hmmm! Good start! So in classic English style I explained very slowly what I needed. I suspected that she might know a little bit of English really and at least enough to get by and she did. She got out a form for me and I realised that it could be a bit of a problem for me, as it meant I would have to change my tax residency. Whilst it is okay to have more than one place to be resident, it is usual to choose only one place for tax residency. The lady at the desk called in a senior member of staff, who spoke English.
Someone's been out in the snow

Jakobs looking cute
I explained to the lady that although I work for an Estonian University, I worked most of the time from my home in Latvia. This would mean my tax residency should be Latvia. I also said, I really didn't want to change this at the moment due to Brexit, as it could cause me issues later. She smiled sympathetically and agreed. She explained the university just needed to put that I was non-resident. The university were worried about the travel expenses that were not covered in the budget to pay me for travelling up to meetings in Tartu. I explained that it was fine, just think of me as resident in Estonia for part of the time, just not the whole year and that would work. I also mentioned the B word to them too.
No alpaca was hurt in the making of this photo. 

The melting snow earlier on this week
has meant Ian was on drain duty, trying
to make sure all the water was running
away from the alpaca houses. 
The B word was mentioned more than once this week. I had to explain to my international colleagues that if they wanted a face to face meeting, then they would have to convene in Estonia because I might not be able to travel if the UK left the EU without a deal, until my status is settled. Oh yes! Less than three weeks away and I can make no guarantees to anyone about my status. Not as if we live in a war zone either. It is extremely exasperating, but there is absolutely nothing I can do about it, except watch the circus in the UK Parliament to see where it is going. What an absolute shambles.
Chanel, Veronica and Josefs all enjoying the sunshine

George thinks the sunshine is something to smile about
I had been keeping up with news on an expat Facebook forum and contributed a few comments from time to time. I was a little surprised to get a request to write an article for them. I took a bit of time to find out more about them and then decided to give it a go. It was only short and didn't take a huge amount of time to write. It was something swilling around in my brain anyway. I was quite pleased with the response to the piece, it seems to have hit the right note and people have been quite kind in their comments. (You can read it here)
So does Freddie. He wasn't so sure about having to stand
still to put cream on his legs the first time, but he now
just accepts the process

Even Herkules looks happy to see the sun
I finally made it out to the land to see the alpacas again. Not sure that the alpacas were so pleased to see me though, as the girls were given Vitamin D injections and Freddie had some of my magic cream applied to his legs. The first day I went out the paths were a bit icy but we could see more and more of the grass appear as the day went on. Today we are back to whiteout with heavy snow showers on and off in the afternoon. So I still haven't made it out skiing yet, but at least Freddie got some more of the magic cream and I Skyped with my Estonian colleagues from the caravan in a snow storm. It's a good job the caravan is still in the greenhouse at the moment.
George practicing his yoga

More sunbathing alpacas, this time Amanda and Silla

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Estonia again

You're leaving us again? Actually I haven't had the chance
to see this chap this week. Ensconced at home getting work
done before my trip up North
I'm back up in Tartu again today. I have some admin to do this week and so thought I may as well be with my colleagues for the online meeting again. Maybe the next time I will actually do the meeting from home, but it depends on what else needs doing. It is good to have a face to face meeting with them from time to time.
We have water in our well. In summer it virtually dried up,
but now it is so full that it is above the level of freezing.
A rather different problem. 

A smiley alpaca
This week I finally managed to finish off a paper I was re-writing, sent an article off for a news website and even got around to doing a bit of tidying up. I also managed to recover from the cold that at least one of my grandchildren passed along. It looks like I avoided the real nasty one that drags on and on. That doesn't give me much to write about but at least it means somethings are finished or at least in the final stages at last.
The new girls are just milling about

Ian has been making friends with the alpacas again. They don't seem to be too unsettled after his time away. He had to do some repairs on the greenhouse doors that were damaged in a storm while we were away and clean out chickens and alpacas. Alpaca cleaning was kept under control while we were away, but we cannot expect someone to spend the amount of time that Ian does on it.
Having a good sniff! It's a male thing

I only managed to get a picture of this chap because he
was so slow, all the other skiers whizzed past. I took this from
the door in our lounge of the Latvian Schools Olympics
track race. 
We still have snow on the ground as it didn't disappear completely, but slowly, slowly it has been disappearing until this weekend when the temperatures dipped and snow moved in again. Heh ho! Winter in Latvia! I'm quite pleased really as there was the annual Latvian Schools' Winter Olympics on over the Friday/Saturday here in our village and it would have been awful without a bit of fresh snow on the top.
He's losing his head! 

Poor Herkules, he's looking like he's ready for spring
One of the things I do these days, especially on journeys is to try and read the land. I guess not everyone does it in the same way I do. Most people read the land in a general way, appreciating a nice view, or a well managed garden and such like. In some ways I read it because I am part of a Landscape Architecture department and my colleagues have taught me but I also read the land for the information it gives me on development, particularly rural development. Sometimes I'm looking at the wholesale look of a land, what can it tell me about the uses people make of that place? Sometimes I am looking at the details of what edible or useful plants there are around me. Landscapes are fascinating for the details they show if you look.

A cute a little fella
So much interest!
One of the topics we chatted about with Ian's brothers was Brexit. They are not for Brexit at all either. It seems so ridiculous that the plans or lack of them are dragging on and on and the UK Parliament do not seem to be able to make any decisions. They seem to know what they don't want in each of their camps but not what they do want on the whole. There is one big problem with this whole debacle that I don't think many folks realise. Even if Brexit does go through with or without a deal on March 29th, that is not the end of it. That is just the start. Now imagine that the deals that need to be made will carry on for years. Especially as layer after layer of complexity has to be unravelled. I don't think we have even scratched the surface of it yet.
Ian is on drain clearing duties now, not
as much snow clearing

Galling indeed! Thanks for your understanding Mr. T
It is galling as we have got to make plans, but with no idea what our situation will be. Ian is making plans for shearing, but will he need visas? Will he even be able to travel? Until a definite decision is made on leaving the EU or not and in what form, no one knows how to handle us. Yes interim plans have been made, but again, they are just the start or a transition phase, but what kind of transition phase we are in, will depend on what the UK Parliament decide and on and on it goes. Will it stop? Nobody knows.
Even the ponds are now full thank goodness

Unfortunately the root cellar is in danger of flooding too.
Not good!