Monday, 28 December 2009

Last post of the decade

We have had a very strange Christmas this year, firstly because we didn't have any children to stay with us and we didn't pick up any strays along the way either. So Christmas day itself was just the two of us for the first time in 23 years. I did make some croissants for breakfast and we ate breakfast together which we rarely do, partly because Ian prefers breakfast as soon as he gets up and I don't, and I am up later than he is. I do have to add though it was Ian's second breakfast of the morning, he couldn't last until I woke up. We followed the breakfast with bacon butties for lunch and just didn't get around to going out, or doing anything really during the day- it was great. We didn't even have presents to unwrap because we have bought so many other things just lately and none of them can be wrapped and put under a Christmas tree. We couldn't even be really bothered to make a proper Christmas meal and had only been able to get pork anyway but it just didn't seem to matter. Eventually we got organised and made our way out to the local hotel where they had a string quartet - very civilised, they even played some traditional carols that we recognised. We then went to a "do" which started at 9pm. We had been invited by the orphanage but had no idea what we had been invited too and watched with amazement as people trundled in with bags of food and bottles of drink, and saw the band warming up. We couldn't work out if all these people were connected with the orphanage or not but gradually it dawned on us that they weren't but we still were clueless as to what was going on. Fortunately a young lass we recognised who spoke English turned up and we asked her what it was that we had been invited too. It turned out that we had been invited to  a dance with a country and western band, not quite our style but it was fun to watch Latvians out for the evening. I have to say some of the young men were surprisingly good dancers, whirling their partners around with practised ease, we were sure that Latvians are born dancing as well as singing which they are famous for.

Before you feel sorry for us that our children have abandoned us at Christmas our daughter has now come out to see us along with her boyfriend, just a few days late that is all. As I said earlier on this year we have always said that we would never insist on our kids coming to see us at Christmas, if they do come then that is great but we will never insist on it as it creates too many issues for young folks trying to balance family commitments. We also said that we would cross the bridge of a childless Christmas when we came to it and that bridge has now been crossed and to tell you the truth, it wasn't too painful, just different. Besides crossing the bridge of a childless Christmas this year we also crossed the bridge of leaving behind being the parents of teenagers as our youngest of three turned 20 years old. Scary how time passes.

Boxing day night we narrowly averted disaster, or at least hope so. We have a beautiful Christmas tree that we chose from the land and I watered it diligently but I forgot one minor detail about our ingenious Christmas tree base and that was not to fill the base up higher than the screw holes........ well water seeped out through the holes- not too bad as there is even a drip tray, the fatal mistake though was to lay some rather nice Christmas stockings over the base which sucked up the water and leaked it over the side onto our laminate flooring, not a good idea. A rather nice free Christmas tree nearly ended up an expensive one if it had lead to ruined flooring but hopefully the dehumidifier saved the day.

Just lately we have been looking into getting a chipper/shredder so that we can deal with the huge piles of clippings from the woodland that Ian has amassed over the last couple of months, hopefully making use of it for composting purposes and creating non-muddy paths in our polytunnel. As we hadn't seen any we thought we might have to import one from England but the other day we spotted one in Depot (a DIY store) while shopping for other bits and pieces, we hummed and harrhhhed and hummed and harrhhed some more before then deciding we had better buy it as it was less than the ones we were looking at in the UK and we wouldn't have to pay postage on it, it was also neat enough to wheel through the forest and shred on the spot as well. Perfect! At least we hope so. They only had the one so we didn't dare come back after taking some time thinking about it, this was one of our biggest "if we don't purchase it now, we may never see another one" purchases but it has got to be done when things are rapidly disappearing from the shops, even the shops are rapidly disappearing. You should have seen us dismantling the thing to get it into the boot of the truck to get it home in Depot car park on a freezing day though.

Last week I said I said that our apartment building has a fuse for the whole house of 35A but I stand corrected, there is 35A available for each block of 6 apartments not 18 as I thought. It still leaves us the with a problem; we can afford to run several appliances and so we can run pretty close to our maximum power output that we can draw through our 20A fuse, but the issue is what about our neighbours? If we pull enough power to run 2x2kW radiators during the cold autumn months before the heating is put on then that means there is only the same amount of electric available for our other 5 neighbours ie they have to share the rest of the 4KW between them. Does that mean that we are actually using more than our fair share of power and denying it to our neighbours? Well not at the moment but it could be if our neighbours buy more appliances. Being able to afford something or the right to do it does not mean that we should, we need to show consideration to others in the process.

On the subject of heating, our bills this year have thankfully been much lower. Many of our neighbours are suffering the effects of reduction in salaries and so heating bills in the order of last year (88-112 LVLS or £111-£141) would have been devastating, and we had such cold weather that our bills should have been higher but thanks to a re-circulation pump that was fitted a couple of months ago this last bill was only 21LVLs, an amazing reduction. This means that teachers who were earning around 500 LVLs last year and only around 250 LVLs this year will be breathing a sigh of relief, some good news in what has been a disastrous year for Latvians economy wise.

Not sure what happened or the reason for it but we found out that the waste removal will no longer be organised by the local Parish, so what now? Who will empty our bins (trash cans)? Our house manager has to phone a company and organise a personal contract for the whole house, but we do wonder how many others in the village will have their waste removed in the New Year. The local tip (landfill) has also been closed as it is not up to EU regulations and the nearest tip is 45 km away. It is going to take some creative solutions to deal with the waste produced even if the average Latvian produces much less waste than most European nations. It just seems very strange that something that I have taken for granted as a state responsibility will not be carried out simply because the contract was not renewed. Even stranger to me was the fact that our last delivery of the year was carried out on Christmas day. The thought of bin men turning out on Christmas day in the snow in England would be laughable, just not possible, but it did here.

Earlier on this year the director of the Latvian institute, Ojars Kalnins, commented that if the Latvian crisis was a book it was in the opening chapters and that there would be many twists and turns in the plot, well the twists and turns have certainly continued as the courts tell the government it is unconstitutional to cut pensions and they must return the money to pensioners. That totally messes with the budget that the government had set with the agreement of the EU and the IMF. If the lending institutions insist that the pension cuts must stay then they are effectively telling the Latvian people that the rule of law means nothing, that the rule of money trumps democratic processes. So what for the New Year, something has to give either the IMF or the Latvian people, somehow I believe the Latvian people will be like David in David and Goliath, how or why I am not sure but I do know the constitutional courts have made the right decision, illegal decisions cannot be inflicted on the country by a lending institution, the Prime Minister accepts he can't legally force the country to do it and the IMF can spit with fury but if they have really learnt that the country has to be responsible then it cannot and must not over rule the rule of law of any nation if it is to retain any credibility. It has to work with the system that is in place.

Photo 1 Cold misty day in the village
Photo 2 Train in Sigulda
Photo 3 Christmas Tree
Photo 4 & 5 The hotel in Licupe, after and before the fire
Photo 6 Ice roads
Photo 7 & 8 Wintry scenes in Latvia


  1. Throughout the past year I have been very interested to read your blog updates every week although I haven't always commented on them. It is good to learn of other ways and customs and reminds us of how much we just take for granted - like the refuse collection - without taking resposibility for what we do and how we live.

    I like your thoughts on your use of electric power and how it isn't always right to do something just because we can if it is to the detriment of others. Not so easy to actually live by though if it means being cold or doing without some loved and 'needed' appliance.

    Seeing the two photos of the hotel - how devastated the owners must have been so soon after all the hard work of renovation and making it look so good, to have it all destroyed. Very sad.

    I look forward to your continued updates in the coming year. Praying that God will richly bless you and Ian in 2010 and make you a means of much blessing to others.

  2. Great reading! Loved the crazy electrics -reminds us of Spain, even in our new place the electrics just blow!
    Exciting to think what the next decade will hold for you guys!

  3. Thank you so much for your encouragement Mavis and GD. It has certainly been interesting thinking of how the things we do affects others with regards to electric as well as other aspects and having our preconceived notions challenged.

    It is sad indeed about the hotel Mavis and unfortunately not all that uncommon.

  4. Echo Mavis on most points. I have started sharing things about the economy of Latvia with friends who moan about this country and will continue to.

    We had a our first taste of growing children choosing their own route of Christmas with our eldest working most of the time. We have also said like you that there will never be pressure to have Christmas with us. We've had too much of that. But it is strange when they choose working over the family traditions! But like you say we survived and really it wasn't a big deal.

    Great post. Thanks!

  5. Glad the news of the Latvian economy is useful. It is certainly startling to think that an average pair of cross country skis will be the equivalent of half a months teacher's salary. Never dawned on me until after I had bought them, and I live here.

    It is indeed strange when the children choose working over a family break, I agree. One of ours did too, despite several invites elsewhere.


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