Friday, 30 October 2009


When all certainties melt away,
I still have you.
When the ground shifts beneath my feet,
Your grip is firm.
When shadows shift,
And the night time comes,
Your presence leads me on.

A touch,
A breath,
A fleeting moment,
Helps me know
That you are here.

The world so fragile,
Holding its breath,
Through it all,
I still have you,
But more than that,
You have me.

Monday, 26 October 2009

bumps, bangs and crashes

Tuesday saw us in Riga for me to take my exam. It went okay, I think I passed but how well? Not a clue! Still the revising is over with which I am soooo grateful for. We took our house manager into Riga as well as she needed to get a re-circulation pump that could be fitted to the apartment block heating. This means we can have heat but more efficiently circulated round rather than sending hot water back up to the boiler house on the hill, hopefully that will bring our heating bills back down to more sensible levels. The blessing of taking our house manager in was that by the following evening we had our heating on, oh bliss! You have no idea how blessed you are to have the sort of heating where you can decide when to turn it on and off, the damp and the cold autumn months are miserable without heat as it is tackling mould or in our case making sure we don't have too many heating elements turned on when we go to switch the kettle on for a cup of tea otherwise our electric trips.

Been a bit of an explosive week but fortunately on a non-fatal level. Ian went down into our basement one morning and was confronted by a sweet sickly aroma, one of our pumpkins had exploded and was busy dripping off the shelf onto his toolboxes below, not a pretty sight! The sweet sickly smell still pervades the basement but so far we have had no further explosions, just need to get rid of the sticky residue everywhere though. Didn't know that pumpkins could explode, just expected them to moulder in the corner.

Our long running polytunnel saga continues this week, we now have a row of boxes levelled off ready for concrete for the timber base to rest on but the other side is still not finished and the weather has not been kind either. We did have a delivery of sand in anticipation of being able to mix concrete, which as normal turned into a drama, this time it is was the turn of the trailer on the tractor to get stuck in the field. It was hoped that the sand could be put near the polytunnel construction site but no, it will have to be wheelbarrowed in place. The trailer had to be dug out to free it as it was in mud up to the axles. Ian thinks it is because there appears to be another spring turning the field to a bog but it is on the top of the hill, very odd!

Our local hotel put on a Nordic walking event this weekend (no that is a picture of Riga not our local hotel) and thankfully the rain held off. We registered, picked up some walking sticks and joined in the warm up exercises, watching carefully because we hadn't a clue what they were talking about, did manage to pick up the Latvian word for up and down. We set off en masse around the village with the now customary cars blocking the road while everyone walked up the middle of the main road (they have no quibbles about holding up traffic for the sake of an event, not like in England where it has to be a major major event to block a road off). There were perhaps around a hundred people which is a good number for a dull October weekend in a village. We headed to a nearby museum, Braki, for a cultural event which turned out to be firstly the two most hilarious women, dressed up like the Latvian equivalent of old washer-women, encouraging everyone to warm down properly, no idea again what they were saying but they were hysterical anyway. At one point they got the men to come to the front and made them do a ridiculous dance around their walking sticks which they also got Ian joining in as well, Ian did comment though "sometimes it is best not to know what's said" ( I really must get a phone with a camera). We were then serenaded by a group of singers in traditional costumes and singing traditional songs, well we assume they were traditional songs as everyone else was joining in with the singing. It was rounded off in true Latvian style with a bowl of porridge. In this case it wasn't strictly porridge it was more what I would call a barley and yellow pea broth but often Latvians do give out a milk based porridge after an event, it was very welcome nonetheless to help us in the walk back. On arrival back at the hotel we were greeted with a wonderful alcholic hot blackcurrant drink, no idea what kind of alcohol but it was really nice. The one thing about the Latvians out in the country is they are a generous people and although we were sat on a table with some folks who couldn't speak English they shared sweets and tried to make us feel welcome and another table shared apples with us, it felt like a real community event. They had a very loooong prize giving with names drawn out from those who were registered on the event and Ian won a Latvian book on sauna attendants, no idea what else is in the book as that was the only bit written in English, it was funny though when they tried calling out his name, they kind of stumbled over it. We stayed for the cake but not for more music we were Latvianed out by then, falling asleep and we still had to walk home and no reflective strips which are a requirement by law as soon as it gets dark. Not a bad day all in all and cost a grand total of 2 lats each (£2.60, $4.20)

Over the weekend we visited an English professor who has a holiday home in Latvia. I came across him in my research for articles on Latvia as he had written an article on what the Latvians feel about the countryside. I thought it was odd to have an English name alongside Latvian names so checked him out, found an email address and contacted him. It was a really interesting time where we found out that you don't have to register with a University to get a PhD but you can put together a group of papers you have published and present that as your thesis, well that is the shortened version. Shows what contacts you can make with a bit of nerve, he could have just ignored my email. I must mention though that I did distinguish myself on the walk around his house, it was wet and I stepped on a rather slippery piece of wood, well you can guess the rest but Ian did manage to restrain himself and not award me points for technical merit for my rather spectacular contact with the thankfully spongy ground. No sympathy there then!

Last but not least of our busy week I looked on my Latvian RSS feed this morning and read that a meteorite had crash into a field in the North of Latvia. It was really weird as the news appeared on some Russian sites first and there was a very clear picture of people stood around a crater but with old-fashioned cars in the background, it didn't look right, there are still some old Lada cars around, but Latvians have generally got newer cars. Gradually the news started filtering through mainstream sites and some pictures from the morning-after started appearing and they sure didn't look like the original photo posted so I am assuming it was just a stock photo dug up from somewhere. It is odd watching a story unfold, wondering if it is really right. It did indeed turn out to be a hoax so I wasn't totally surprised. Must be the months for hoaxes though, just wonder if it is the thought of heading into winter that leads to these? Fort Collins where we used to live was in the news recently as well for a massive hoax, where parents reported that they thought there son was in a weather balloon when in fact they knew he was hiding in their garage. Strange world we live in at times!

Well kind of finishing off I have to say I am really pleased to be starting to be proved wrong, there are folks who are demonstrating that they are either kind-hearted or at least have a degree of compassion in them here in Europe; firstly there are the rich Germans who believe they should be taxed more for the next couple of years so that the money can be fed into the state to fund economic and social programmes to aid recovery, they feel it is more efficient that way than giving to charity. Secondly there is a report out that says that people in the EU still believe that giving aid is a good idea despite the recession and lastly the Green party are speaking out and saying that the social reforms of previous years must not be undone with the current state of the economy. Positive messages, that people are not just looking out for themselves but thinking of others and I find that encouraging, I pray it continues.

To definitely finish off I just want to mention that it was announced this week that teachers here in Latvia would get an increase in salary next year of 30% which sound absolutely humungous until you realise that teachers this year had a massive cut and now only earn 250 LVLs (£322, $525) on average a month and if you remember from last week the minimum subsistence level is about 165 LVLs, doesn't leave much in the pocket and that is for teachers.

(Photos of Riga -not recent, and one pumpkin)

Monday, 19 October 2009

A modern allegory

A little extra post this week

There was an old woman who lived in a village with her son that was ruled by a demanding old man. Although he took care of the villagers basic needs they had to work hard and be careful not to anger the old man, as he could be cruel and merciless. Suddenly one day the old man left. Times were even harder then for the old woman and her son as there was now no one to take care of the basic needs of the villagers.

Eventually some energetic young men came to the village and befriended the young man. They gave him lots of advice and lent him money. The young man built himself a beautiful home and the young man was happy and his mother was pleased to see him prosper. But suddenly times changed and things got hard and the young man's new friends wanted their money back but because times were hard he could not repay. What could he do? Where could he turn? Another old man came to the village and offered to pay back the loans of the young man but he insisted that the old woman and the rest of the villagers now also pay him back for helping the young man out. The old man took the money from what little money the old woman and the other villagers had coming into the homes in order to make sure he was paid back.

That's not fair you may say and indeed it is not. The energetic young men will probably get their money back and more and the old man too but the villagers will be paying for the reckless loans taken by the young man for a long time to come. Who is to blame you may ask? The young man? Or his reckless advisors? Who should pay? What do you think?

The characters in this tale are:-
The demanding old man: The Soviet system
The Old Woman and her son: The Latvian people
The energetic young men: The EU, Swedish banks and the advisors from the World bank/IMF
The second old man: The IMF

The Old Woman and her son could actually be many different countries and the advisors from many different organisations but the scenario has happened and may indeed happen again unless the system changes and people are held accountable for their reckless loans and advice. Maybe you don't see it that way, maybe you have a different story or a different way of telling the story, feel free to write your own and post it here.

Chainsaw moments

We had some spare bolts made for our tractor this week, and when we went to collect them we found out that our local machinist also happens to be a cobbler - praise God! Of course you could all see the connection couldn't you, I mean it is totally reasonable to expect that the local metalworker would be a cobbler as well, isn't it?
Must admit that I was rather surprised at the combination. Anyway I had a beautiful pair of shoes sitting in my cupboard, lightweight and so comfortable but they had split after a very short time so it was great to be able to get them repaired and although it is not an invisible repair due to the nature of the split I do at least have a lovely wearable pair of lightweight shoes again. I do hate throwing out shoes which haven't been worn to death. Ian also decided to get his tow rope fixed as well, with all the work it has been put to it was starting to get a hole in it, as the hook had gone through the webbing.

Ian has still been chopping wood up this week but his chainsaw was not behaving again so it was given a serious talking to and then taken to the chainsaw hospital 45km away. It was not terminal but they told him it would be two hours before it was fixed so he decided to come home. On the way back it started snowing quite heavily, in fact at one stage it was whiteout, Ian noticed a car at the side of the road which appeared to be stuck (sound familiar?) and he stopped to see if he could help, it turned out to be one of the neighbours. Good job we got the tow rope fixed and the guy had left the tow rope outside our door that morning, not only that but Ian had been wondering why he had decided to come home when it was just a two hour wait and a half hour drive there and back, looks like it was a good decision at least for the neighbour.

Before I start this section let's play spot the difference? Answer at the end of this paragraph!
On Ian's way back from the chainsaw hospital he decided to check out some tarpaulins on the land to see how they are faring in the windy conditions, it was then that he discovered that one of our trees had landed on the road, Whoops! Someone had shifted it to the side but it needed logging up - busy day! Eventually he got to the tarpaulins to check on them but something wasn't right, something looked very different. The tarpaulin was fine but the tree? Ian had been logging up a fallen branch that must have fallen down at least a year ago if not longer but now the tree was missing more than a branch, it was missing a huge section. In fact the huge section we had stood beneath the day before. Ian really felt God speaking saying that huge structures that looked so permanent have broken that something had been released, the landscape has changed. What has shifted we aren't sure about but something has shifted. One of my facebook friends posted this "Listen.... the world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air.(Galadriel from Fellowship of the Ring)" and we could add we see it in the trees. I am constantly amazed how much of God's purposes are revealed in the natural world around us and I am looking to see what that shift actually means and where it will lead. Exciting times! Oh and by the way, the tree was so huge that it necessitated buying an even larger chainsaw and more logging, oh Ian is having a whale of a time.

Well criticism of Latvia continues this week this time it is the turn of the head of the EU finance turn to have a go. Other politicians though fear unrest, I wonder if I actually fear no unrest - what does it say about a nation that acquiesces quietly to such painful cuts? Although the minimum subsistence level is above the level of pensions various organisations are still asking for further cuts in pensions, taking pensions even further down past the level needed to buy basics! Back in 1992 an academic Maureen Mackintosh said "adjustment will continue to be impoverishing and destructive of long-term development unless the policy process itself can be democratised" in other words the reforms demanded by the IMF would be far less destructive and far more beneficial if the public were involved in the debate of what to do. The Latvians know that things need to change they are not stupid but they need to be involved in those decisions so that things will change throughout society not dictated once again, from above as has happened in Latvia by occupying forces for over 800 years. It makes the IMF demands no better than the Soviets in not giving space for democratic debate in their haste to "set things right".

The State Revenue service has not escaped the cuts either. 1500 jobs to go there and for those that remain there will be 32% reduction in salary. An object lesson in how not to motivate staff to produce a modern efficient corruption free service. How on earth these folks are supposed to carry on with their jobs with such savage cuts and remain motivated to working towards a well run service I do not know.

I found this comment this week on one internet site "We need people who care, who refuse to conform and who want to change the world. In short, we need a new passion for authentic human values. For there yet remain many miles, and many exits, on the road to full freedom in Europe." That kind of echoes what I said last week "I want to believe that Europe can arise out of this mess by demonstrating that they are stronger when they look out for each other instead of trying to solely support their own nations at the expense of others." Sounds like there are others who are looking for a new voice of reason, one not built just on getting the money side of things right, not reducing everything to a set of monetary units, like the joke that goes "they will be taxing the air we breathe next", or maybe it should be "wait until they find a way to package the air we breathe up and then they could sell it to us".

Last week I also asked if Bankers should apologise and I actually found an interview where a banker apologised for what has happened in the Baltics, you could have knocked me down with a feather. So here is what Lars Christensen from Danske bank said

"Of course one can question whether supervision has been good enough in the banking sector, but fundamentally I do not think that the major problem has been supervision. Rather I think some policy makers added to the bubble by being "cheerleaders" of the boom. However, the responsibility of the crisis have to be shared between commercial bankers, central banks and politicians. We all in different ways failed."

At least he admitted the bankers part in the fiasco, some honesty there at least. Bankers aren't solely to blame but they did play a big part.

I passed another milestone in my Open University course this week I got my final assignment back and I was very pleased with the result 70%, a merit (before any of my American friends start worrying, 70% is a very good score in the English system, the scores are 40%-64% - Pass, 65%-74% merit and 75% and above a distinction). This also takes me up to a merit overall in all three of my assignments, which gives me a good start for my exam tomorrow, just wish it wasn't in the morning as it means a very early start. Yuck!

Another milestone this week is that we finally got the land level, ready to put in the concrete mounting blocks for the wooden structure of the poly tunnel, as you can see it is not a pretty site and those boxes ready for the cement don't look too straight at the moment. The signs are not looking good for getting the tunnel up before the Winter. So possibly no early start for the veg this year then. Well not unless we get some nice dry not too cold weather, soon.

There are two photos of lichens and if anyone is a lichen buff then we would dearly love to know what type they are.

Monday, 12 October 2009

We fought the weather and the weather won

This has been another busy week but not much to write about personally as the busyness has been centred around me trying to revise for my exam and still trying to process some of the produce from the garden. The dehydrator has been on almost constantly and do you know how long it takes to dry out a couple of trays of cherry tomatoes? Two days! Mind you they are nice, I could snack on the lot but had better not, we need them for the winter. I was surprised that they were so nice as the tomatoes this year were a bit disappointing and lacking in taste but dried they are gorgeous. Ian has been at his favourite past time of chopping wood ready for the installation of our new wood stove - there are some logs that have been on the ground for while and so have already dried out which will come in handy. Next year and maybe over this winter we need to be a bit more organised and get wood sorted out early.

We did reach a memorable milestone though this week and that is our 25th Wedding Anniversary. We decided to go out for a quiet meal to celebrate. Normally the hotel is very quiet and each time we go we pray for more custom to keep it open as we would hate it to close and this time we got what we prayed for, 50 guests descended on the hotel. We felt we had to really eat up so we could get out of the way, the staff were very sweet though and didn't hurry us but we felt bad for holding them up - they need all the custom they can get so we didn't begrudge them it.

Another milestone was reached this week and not one we particularly wanted to reach so early in the year, it snowed today! Over a month earlier than last winter and that was a long winter. The snow lasted all day too which is not good for Ian as he was trying to organise getting the ground level ready for the poly tunnel. Not sure if we are going to get it finished now, we may have fought the weather and lost this year. We had hoped that the levelling would be done over the weekend as it was perfect weather, dry and frosty in the mornings but no it wasn't meant to be.

This week has been very busy on the RSS feed I have for Latvian news. The twists and turnsof the crisis continue in a worrying vein with some predictions early on in the week of the imminent collapse of the Latvian economy and all reported without one shred of decency, not one report actually took account of what this means for the poorest in this nation. Come on people this is not good enough - the pensioners cannot pay their bills now, they do not eat well at the best of times, and even last year the goods in the shops were too expensive and they had to look at everything they bought counting each santim (penny), these are real live people we are talking about and you cannot cut their incomes by 20% without a shred of regret or care. Shame!

The Swedish finance minister Anders Borg is still pontificating and hectoring the Latvians, even the Swedish Prime Minister was joining in too this week. Can the Swedes in all honesty condemn the Latvian pensioners to a winter of nothing all for the sake of the stupidity of Swedish banks lending far above what they should have done to financially naive Latvians? Should banks apologise asks the BBC, and my answer is yes they should! I would dearly love to see the same humbleness exhibited by the Swedish government ministers as the Latvian Prime Minister earlier on this year when he apologised to the Latvian people for the pain they were going to have to go through to get the economy back on track. So how about the Swedish ministers apologising along with the bankers for their role in impoverishing a nation?

As you can tell I am riled with all the rhetoric, especially when I see the pain of the people around me. I want to believe that there are people out there who care, I want to believe there are those in the Swedish nation who are hurt to see their government being so unsympathetic to the plight of the poor. I want to believe that this crisis has woken people up to the need to care about others and I want to believe that Europe can arise out of this mess by demonstrating that they are stronger when they look out for each other instead of trying to solely support their own nations at the expense of others. I was beginning to despair of anyone having any sense and speaking up for the Latvians when help came from a rather unexpected source, George Soros. Now I know that George Soros is out to make money, that is what he is good at, so I was rather shocked to read that he actually thought that the EU could do more to help the Latvian nation and he felt that really there was no sense in penalising the Latvian people by cutting the public finances when the problem is essentially to do with the private sector. What is even more amazing is he was speaking in Stockholm, the home of the hectoring Swedish government.

I am also pleased to read that questions are still being asked of the IMF and their role in the crisis and the way they operate. The Guardian commented "The Fund (the IMF) has privately told others that its policies should be judged not on whether they made the downturn worse in borrowing countries, but on whether these countries would have been even worse off if they didn't get any aid at all. This seems too low a bar. If you go to a doctor with an badly infected foot, and he saves your life by amputating it, you are better off as a result of the treatment. But if you could have been cured by available antibiotics, this is not competent medicine."

Latvia is certainly being asked to amputate a lot but this is not necessarily the best method of getting the economy on a sound footing as Mr. Soros explained and I agree with him (well on this point anyway). Institutional reform in Latvia is necessary, everyone knows that. The Latvian economy has been mis-managed, yes everyone apart from those who profited illegally from it will agree with that, but you cannot change a whole bureaucracy in a year. When a house has major structural faults you can move the people out while the work is done but sometimes there is nowhere for the people to go and the structural repairs have to be carried out around the daily chores of the homeowner. This is what it is like for many of the state organisations in Latvia who have been trying to move away from Soviet style inefficient models to modern effective organisations but as I said this does not happen overnight as the structure still has a job to do while the structural work goes on. To make proper efficient savings for the Government is going to take more than a couple of years and is not best served by cutting wages, otherwise you are not only expecting the people to put up with the restructuring, which is stressful in itself but also reducing their incentives to see the work through. Instead they go into survival mode which is not helpful in reforming an institution. The baying for blood by the Swedish Government will only serve to leave a battered and brutalised nation wondering what the point of trying to modernise. Haven't the nations of Europe battered and brutalised this nation enough in its fights over it?

Well after all that rhetoric from me I thought I had better end on a more positive note and so I had to mention this fantastic young man. At 16 he is running a school in his poor neighbourhood for 800 children, teaching them from the lessons he learnt during the day in another school which he is privileged to be able to attend. It is incredible what some people can do when they care enough.

Photos from the weekend and then today, as you can see a big difference, winter arrived here in Latvia.

Monday, 5 October 2009


I don't do busy normally! I like to take my time, reflect and think, I am much more efficient when I don't do things on the run but this week is an exception as there was not much choice. So here is a run down of our week

Ian has bought a digger to go on the back of his tractor so we can dig out ditches - and judging by the wetness of the land and little ponds appearing everywhere due to the rain this week we are going to have to make use of that, and also for levelling the land for the polytunnels. The digger should have arrived Friday but it didn't, we had a phone call on Monday to say it would arrive Tuesday between 1-3 pm, right during our Latvian lesson, still didn't arrive. Just as the tea (evening meal) was cooked the phone went, our digger was arriving in 10 mins - arrghh! We went out to direct the truck to the land and wondered how he was going to get the digger out of it, Ian had explained very carefully that there is nothing apart from the tractor to be able get the digger off a truck (remember the tractor saga?). We pulled off the road onto the land and stopped so we could consult with the driver, consult is a very loose term for hand gestures equating to some form of primitive communication. We managed to convey that the digger needed to go up over the hill but we didn't think the truck would make it but the driver was willing to give it a go - we had a sinking feeling, in fact five minutes later so did the truck driver, he got stuck... well and truly stuck. We got out our tractor and linked up to the truck but there was no way our little tractor was going to pull that truck out, it fought a valiant battle but the truck was way too big and in the process our tractor was digging holes in the soft sandy dirt roads - not good! Well to cut a long story short I had to phone a friend with a big tractor to come and pull him out, which he did and then the truck driver decided to do a three point turn on a dirt road with ditches on either side - guess what? Yes you've guessed it he had to be pulled out again. Eventually we got the driver sorted out and he took the digger to our friends farm where it now sits because it doesn't fit our tractor. There is a part that is needed that we haven't got, so that is another saga in progress.

Our night did not finish with the truck though, while helping to free the hapless truck driver I got a call from a friend, but couldn't really deal with it at the time, so on our way home I decided to phone back and see what the call was about. Someone was stuck! Groan! They had been fishing after work and in between time it had rained and now their car was stuck could we come and pull it out? Off we traipsed once again, it was a close call but we did manage to free the guy, so at 10:30pm that night we actually sat down to eat after battling with rain and mud for most of the night.

The next day Ian was showing the poly tunnel construction guy the land and the problems we were now having with the mud, which is not going to be helpful in putting up the poly tunnels, when the four wheel drive selector gear jammed on our 18 month old truck. Ian wasn't sure if it was jammed with diff lock on or not and meant he was not really happy about driving it around in case he ruined it (for those who don't know driving with diff lock on ruins transmissions and means major work on the car, under warranty maybe but not what we could do with right now). We were kind of carless for a day or two while Ian sorted out whether it really did have the diff lock on and whether it was safe or not to drive the 2 hours into Riga to get it fixed and in consultation with our Swedish night in shining armour he decided it was safe.

So today we spent the time in Riga with me revising in the car on the way there and back as I have an exam in just over two weeks time - as I said this week has been on the run. We also managed to get a lovely looking wood stove, now that we have the relevant papers to allow us to install it our flat (that saga only a month in the making) and typical Latvian style we got to take it home that day, at least that is one thing we don't have to wait at home to be delivered. We also got a generator so we can run a cement mixer to put in some foundation blocks for the poly tunnel, now we just have to pray it stops raining enough to be able to prepare the ground.

Had a great find while in Riga, a dehydrator! I can sense the excitement from you all! I have been talking about one all week after someone on a blog I follow had bought one and was talking about all the things they had been dehydrating making storage of produce from the garden so much easier. One thing we learnt in Denmark, if you see something that you think maybe useful buy it, as you may never see it again so that is what we did. Now I don't advocate the whole materialism thing, or retail therapy rubbish this is sheer practicality. When you live in a country with only a few million population the range of goods is not as extensive as say in England or the US and so you may see something one week and never see it again. This does mean that you have to be really aware of what you could possibly use sometime in the future so anything that makes food storage easier is a definite must. Can't wait to get started on the tomatoes and the apples.

We started our Latvian lessons in earnest this week and our neighbour brought us round a lovely jar of cherry jam for our first lesson with her, the school teacher gave us Latvian chocolate for our first lesson and some Latvian bread later on in the week, so we are getting to know the tasty side of Latvian culture too. They are such sweet people and very patient, good job as Ian's head hurts. I have learnt different languages from time to time, not fluently but enough and taught our kids English when they were being home educated so I kind of know what to expect and can work things out pretty quickly. Poor Ian hated English at school, doesn't help that he grew up with a Geordie accent which is a very strong dialect and only ever had red crosses through his work as the teacher never explained the correct way to write things, so consequently trying to work out what the Latvian book is trying to teach him is not helpful. I am sure it will get easier with time though and this is just a rough time to be starting, the winter will be perfect when I haven't got as much work to study and Ian hasn't got so much work to do such as working on the land, pulling transport out of mud, and harvesting stuff from our garden.

Another sweet tale from this week is a lady we call the goat lady because she has goats (obvious really) but last year she managed to get us to understand that she would like the outside leaves of our cabbages to feed to her goats which we duly gave her, even bagged up some more later on in the month for her. This year she came down to me chattering away, while I was in the garden, saying something about apples and pointing at her trees. I didn't quite understand so she took me by the hand to the trees and pointed to all the wind falls on the ground, I pointed to my bucket that I happened to have in my hand and she says "Ja, Ja" (yes, yes) and she also explained (well indicated) there were more around the back, so I filled my bucket. This has been really helpful because I think we might have all of a dozen apples on our own tree this year, frost must have got the blossom in spring. Later on in the week I went back for more with two buckets this time and when she appeared out of the house she even helped me to pick some, making sure my buckets were really full.

Latvia has been in the news for all the wrong reasons again and the link gives the fairest assessment that I can see of the spat between Britain and Latvia over the parades by soldiers who were in the Latvian SS during the war. Latvian history is indeed a tangled web and none more so than during the war, judging who was the enemy and who was the ally can be difficult at the best of times and from across the channel and with hindsight the battle lines must look so easy and clear cut but not in the midst of the battle or with a country whose history is so convoluted. The choice that Latvians had, assuming of course they had a choice which many did not because of conscription, was do you join the Nazi side and fight the Russians who have dominated you for many years or join the Russian side to fight the Nazi ideology? Not much of a choice really and many intellectuals left but the men in the fields didn't often have that choice. Some joined the Nazi side and today feel proud that they had tried to stem the advances of Russia, this feeling was then fuelled by the following years under the communist regime; they also wished to acknowledge the sacrifice of their fellow countrymen in that endeavour. I am not excusing them, nor agreeing with them but I can see their point, 46 years under Soviet rule has coloured their appreciation of the past in a way that I don't think we who grew up on the other side of the iron curtain can fully appreciate and I feel that there should be more understanding that this young country is still trying to find its place in the world, that it is also still struggling with issues that are raw. Condemnation without understanding is not going to get anyone anywhere.

While the IMF were busy congratulating themselves and telling everyone what a super job they are doing there are people who do not quite agree and think they are still up to their old tricks by imposing the ideology of free markets on countries that is both painful and counter productive. The IMF think that the pain will be worth it, but it is the poor who suffer every time and the biggest question is "Why should the poor suffer because of debts incurred by the wealthy bankers? Why should they be the ones paying?" The route taken only reduces security by destabilising a country. The Latvian Government is wobbling but possibly won't fail - which party truly wants to take on running Latvia at the moment? Another of my least favourite people is the finance minister of Sweden, he is obviously very worried because if the Latvian economy fails the Swedish run banks are in serious trouble, so he thinks he should keep reminding the Latvian Government to stick to their promises no matter what the pain. If the Swedish poor were put through as much pain as the Latvian poor I think there would be riots, the Swedes would not stand for it surely, but who will stand up for the Latvian poor? Another point to consider is will much of the IMF money given to Latvia end up in the Swedish banks pockets as it is used to service debts? If anyone with a better knowledge of economics can answer that one I will be glad to know but it will be interesting to know where all the money actually ends up, I somehow don't think much will end up in the pockets of the pensioners and the sick.

Photos this week 1) pepper plants that had to be brought in due to the frost, 2) aubergines continuing to grow in the house now also due to the cold, 3) marrows, carrots, cucumbers, 7 pumpkins (plus one more not on the photo) from the mystery plants growing in our manure heap, well we don't know how they got there as we didn't plant them but quite a harvest nonetheless 4) four sacks of potatoes, not bad for an apparently bad potato year 5) all the beans that need de-podding and apples waiting to be sorted.