Monday, 13 September 2010

Empire expands

Our new Lada
We started off this week by adding yet another item to our inventory, a Lada! Yes I said a Lada! Ian has had his eye on a Lada ever since we got here, to be precise a 4WD Lada Niva. It is interesting to see that over the years the changes in car ownership in Latvia. When we first arrived the cars were mainly Soviet era makes, and don't ask me what they were I have no idea, I just know they weren't the state of the art modern looking cars. The only modern looking cars were the dark windowed Mercedes that you didn't ask who owned those! As time went on the cars changed and more and more European cars were seen on the streets, in fact quite upmarket cars, but the Lada Nivas were still seen around, well maybe not in town but certainly in the countryside. The Ladas continued to chug on, nothing glamorous or elegant in any shape or form but robust little workhorses. We used to have a Niva in England and I have to say it was a pig to drive, it had a small steering wheel and no power steering so driving it from our village to the next town was a physical endeavour that took a lot of energy, however and it is a big however, in the snow it was perfect. It was like a different beast entirely. The Lada we have acquired is a suped up rally version as it was used in competitions around the local forests. This means there are no frills at all in this car as it is as light as possible but it does what we want it to do which is to travel over the land without chewing it up quite as much as the tractor and tows a trailer at the same time. It has a winch on the front that will pull 5 tonnes and so it might be useful for winching some of the trees from the forest but we still have to try it out on that. It now means as well that Ian gets to partake in one of his favourite hobbies of messing around with cars, I think he has missed the dirt and the swearing as something doesn't go back together the way it should and we don't have to worry about putting our newish, heavy vehicle into situations where it could get stuck or damage it. If we damage the Lada, the chances are it will be fixable and cheap, damage the truck and it is likely to cost us money - lots of!

Our share of the haul of mushrooms
We have been venturing out again this week, this time picking mushrooms with one of our Latvian friends. During the English lessons I teach we are often asked if we have been picking mushrooms in our forest and had to confess that to be honest we hadn't had time to look but even if we had we weren't one hundred percent sure that we could remember which were the safe mushrooms to eat. It turns out that one of my students is an ace at picking mushrooms as she knows the best places to go and picks loads of them, so we put her on the spot and asked if she would take us out and show us the safe ones, so earlyish Saturday morning saw us out in the woods with our friend and two young helpers who could translate. We set off into the woods and our friend wandered off in one direction and the helpers in another and we were left a little bewildered as to what we were looking for and where we were but as if by magic eventually everyone re-appeared and found each other again, much to our relief. We did eventually get the hang of which mushrooms to pick and saw some beautiful examples of what we were definitely not looking for, the classic red mushrooms with white spots but also there are some brown ones which have similar spots on the top - didn't know about those, but we did learn the Latvian for poisonous that's for sure. Pity I didn't have a camera with me to take a photo of the red ones, they are so pretty and there were some beautiful examples of them. The afternoon was spent processing our haul into mushroom sauce, dried mushrooms, mushroom sandwiches and guess what we had for tea (dinner) too - yup! You guessed! Mushrooms!

A lovely spot to work
It has been good to be exercising my brain again and getting back into the swing of academic work but what was even nicer was sitting outside on our land today in the sunshine and the peace and quiet reading my course book. Well it would have been quiet but someone was hammering away trying to do something with the wheel on a certain Lada, thank goodness it didn't last long. I think if I was going to do that on a regular basis though I will have to invest in a comfier chair although it was a good excuse to get up and wander about looking at the changing colours of the trees, watching the pond life and generally doing something other than reading from time to time. Ian meanwhile continued shifting hay off the main part of the field into a humungous pile that will eventually become compost. What it has helped us to realise though is that we can't do that again every year, it takes far too long when there are plenty of other jobs to do. We will have to mull over the solutions early next year I think. The options are to get in the contractors but that costs quite a bit of money and they won't be very happy at baling up our degraded grassland with all the raspberry canes in it and we are unlikely to recoup the costs from sales of the bales, get a baler ourselves that we can at least avoid the places that mess up the machines, borrow a horse and use the old-fashioned grass collectors or get sheep! Sheep are a strong possibility particularly for steep areas but I think we will be restricting ourselves to fattening up lambs for the table so we don't have the winter expenses too soon. Still we have the winter to mull these things over and that's what winters are for, to plot and plan for the year ahead and eat what you have grown during the year, oh yes and to see our children getting married.

A pond frog hiding. Not the prettiest of names for such a
pretty coloured frog
One thing Ian and I struggle with at times is making decisions. Sometimes we can make rapid decisions but often we take ages. Planning our trip to England to see our son getting married is a nightmare. Part of the reason is not having an income yet and so seeing savings dwindle as we live off them can be a bit scary at times and there is still no sign of our house in Sheffield selling and that means we really should be being careful with our money. Accommodation in the south of England is a bit problematic but finally we found a caravan to stay in which is near enough to our son to not have a long round trip every day. Next we have to plan to actually get there, we have decided on going by car - well that's one decision down but now we have to decide where to stay en route as we don't like the idea of sleeping in the car, not even sure it is legal in some places, and a nice bed, shower and breakfast will make for a much more pleasant journey. Oh well! Back to surfing the internet for hotels along the way I guess.

For all my Colorado friends, aspens in
our forest.
One other decision I have to make fairly soon is on a research project to do, both a short one for a placement, an assignment and then next year the big one for my Master's thesis. One thing I will have to do is to engage with some of the Latvian authorities to find out what help they can provide to assist my research in development in rural Latvia. In one way I am dreading it as I know how long some things take. I have been reading how important the first contact can be in social research and how a bad initial contact can put up barriers to any further research, so that does not instil confidence. We are blessed though with a neighbour who is an environmental journalist which means lots of useful contacts but a busy schedule and so that meant taking two weeks just trying to find some contacts with someone in the state forest service. I now have to find someone to translate for me, at least for the initial contact. I suspect that there are people who would be able to speak enough English in the organisation for me to work with them but gaining their confidence is crucial before someone is willing to admit they can speak English. Picking the right person to translate is also going to be crucial too and so time slips by - at least I have a year to get somewhere on this one, that is some consolation. One day, one day! I will be able to speak Latvian and that will be one less problem to work my way through but until that day I have to rely on others, which in itself is perhaps not a bad thing - making myself vulnerable and dependent on others.


Mavis said...

A number of years ago we had a Lada - until the then government decided they could no longer import or sell them for safety reasons (whatever they were!) Living in the northeast of England at the time we did appreciate the fact that even on the coldest winter days, the engine would start without any problem. It was the most reliable car we ever had in winter time. I have fond memories of our Lada. But as you have also owned one I guess I'm preaching to the converted.

What a harvest of mushrooms! I think I would be a bit wary of picking them in the wild ... ... just in case! But they do look good. Thinking of your dwindling finances, you could always have mushroom soup, mushroom omelette, garlic mushrooms, stuffed mushrooms, mushroom risotto ... etc etc etc

Joanna said...

Lada lovers of the world unite! I remember going through snowdrifts one time and another time getting into Sheffield to rescue Ian who had gone in in the morning on his bike. Great fun! We did have reliability problems at first but that was because all the rubber components had perished while standing around but once that was sorted it was a good car.

Didn't know you were another north easterner - so is Ian

I am wary of picking mushrooms but the boletes mushrooms with their peelable underparts - not gills are quite easy to identify along with the chanterelles and going with a Latvian who know from an early age which ones should and shouldn't be picked helps.

Mavis said...

Yes, I am a Geordie! Born in North Shields, then moved around, including living in Argentina for 10 years before moving back to the northeast - Wallsend. I moved down to Yeovil in Somerset when I retired (by now a widow) to be with my younger son.

Joanna said...

Well I never. You Geordie's get everywhere. Ian comes from further north in the Wansbeck area, so on the upper reaches of Geodieland