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)

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