Monday, 22 November 2010

Happy Birthday Latvia

Kuldiga bridge in the West of Latvia, recently restored 
This week was Latvia's Independence day to celebrate the first time they achieved independence on November 18th 1918. It was a short lived independence and was lost to the Soviet steam roller in 1940 before being re-established again in 1991. This is why November 18th is celebrated as the birthday of Latvia and not August 21st when the second period of independence of Latvia was declared. Would have loved to have gone to the celebrations in the local culture house on the eve of the birthday but I was just heading into the village when everyone was starting to gather, and I was on my way back from Kuldiga, a four and half hour drive away so I just wanted to get home and have a nice cup of tea. One of these days we must get to the celebrations and imbibe a bit of Latvian culture. As the holiday fell on a Thursday people took the Friday off too but only after working the Saturday beforehand. Seemed strange last Saturday to go around our village and see children at school and office workers in their offices. 

A log fire in the house of a guy who was a
playwright and author and sent to
Siberia but did return and when he returned
he built a rock garden
As I mentioned I have been on my own to Kuldiga, a really pretty old town in the West of Latvia, it was for work towards my course honest! The fact I got to stay in a really quaint place with a log fire for heating, called Sauleskalns or Sunny hill and taken on a tour of Kuldiga by someone who lives there was just a bonus. I was there to have a meeting with a forest consultant and the head of forestry for a large region around the Kuldiga area and beyond, mainly because they were willing to have me there and spoke good English and I am trying to find out what a new forest owner needs to know. They sure made my task easy and by late afternoon I had enough information to head back home. I found out about all sorts of things like pre-commercial thinning, commercial thinning, when clear felling is allowed and the requirements for regeneration following felling or a storm. There are lots of regulations which were probably necessary originally as there was little knowledge of forestry except amongst the older generation at the time of independence. These rules though are beginning to be relaxed but as is usual there is also a danger in relaxation of rules of abuse and not taking care of a forest. I also saw a newly planted pine forest about 3 years old all topped with some blue paste (wish I had thought to take a photo when I was there), turns out it is to stop the deer from eating the tops of the trees in the spring, something that happened to the owner when replanting another part of the forest and not something he wanted to repeat. I also spent time in school as the forest consultant showed a video and talked about the job she did to 18 year olds, watched a short consultation in progress and still found time to have a whistle stop tour of Kuldiga (it is small) and eat. I have to mention that the forest consultant was very gracious as I made a complete hash of trying to reverse 400m back down a single track after taking a look at the blue topped trees and she ended up guiding my steering wheel, but she did it with such sweetness, still felt like a fool though. In my defence it is hard to reverse just on mirrors in our truck as the visibility is not good. 

It has been rather wet, this was supposed
to be a walk way by the side of the river
One thing that does keep coming up in my meetings is the issue of trust. Latvians do not trust each other, they tend to trust us, although why on earth the English should be trusted any more than a Latvian is beyond me, we are not really a trustworthy nation - trying leaving something outside a shop and it is not likely to be there when you get back in England, let's be honest! The English do not always have scruples about taking something home from the office for use at home either, so no we are not a trustworthy nation on the whole but we still exhibit more trust of our nationals than the Latvians do. It is such a shame and restricts the way that Latvians help each other out or don't as the case maybe. A discussion on trust though did help the forest consultant to see how much progress she has made as people do trust her and want to join an organisation she has set up to purchase trees. This is something I would love to see more of as small holders of forests or land can do so much more when they work together and pool resources but it does require trust.

The famous falls of Kuldiga, normally a fall of 2-3m. A
channel was built alongside to get around these falls by
 tsarist Russia but failed due to economic reasons. Some
things don't change
Talking of land we have been continuing to get ready for winter before we go away. Our orchard now looks to be full of ghostly apparitions as the trees are all covered in bubble wrap. I wanted to find something a bit more environmentally friendly but we just haven't had the time to look and it has been so wet that anything like hessian or jute would just get saturated and freeze anyway and we weren't paying a fortune on some of the coir products they produce for covering trees. We have also finished covering what we can with fir branches to protect from the snow and cold that we are expecting on Wednesday, as the temperatures start to slip from the current 5C during the day to possibly around -10C daytime by Sunday. The wet weather is also set to continue, but turning of course to the white fluffy stuff. It has been so wet here that everything is completely and utterly saturated with puddles everywhere that seeing the white stuff will be a relief of sorts - I say of sorts as we are due to leave soon and we are hoping the white stuff does not throw our plans into complete disarray.

Our ghostly apparitions in our orchard
We are still harvesting from our polytunnel and we picked the last chillies from the plants, trouble is that somewhere in the meantime they turned from very mild green chillies to rather hot green chillies. I thought the last lot of green chillies were very mild and we even had three in a meal without really noticing but a green chilli and tomato soup with two and half chillies from the recently picked chillies was too hot for us to eat. I should have taken more notice as I tasted one of the seeds  just to test how hot they were and it was hot, but I thought it would be fine in the cooking as the last lot were - big mistake! In the end I bought a kilogramme of minced pork (ground pork) and added that with a load of grated carrot to the green chilli and tomato soup and we ended up with enough meals for five days out of it and we could still taste the heat. Still it was a good excuse to have some of Ian's Bill Gate's ice-cream, so named because it wasn't just rich as in the recipe it was super rich with lots of added chocolate, in fact he had upped the name to World Bank ice-cream today. We bought the ice-cream maker back with us from England as a certain someone was getting through so much ice-cream I thought it would be better to make our own and there were moans emanating about the lack of chocolate ice-cream from time to time, at least this way we should always be able to make it.

Progress! We now have a roof structure on and I will not
tell you how they put those structures up apart from
to say that it involved a tractor.
Well where have my trundles taken me this week on the internet? One was to an Irish paper talking about the recent capitulation to the axis of bankers as they put it. Suppressed anger emanates from the article and yet a resignation to the inevitable. It is interesting to see how the journalist highlights the bankers stealth in the take over, knowing they had won and yet willing to wait rather than force the hand of the Irish so that it appears like an agreement. It is also interesting using the word axis as it means enemy and taken from the second world war where you had the axis of Germany, Japan etc and the allies. Bankers have a hard PR job to do if they are ever to convince people they are respectable organisations and not vultures. 

As you can see it is wet here too. The tractor didn't help, the
channel got blocked but we cleared it. Oh we love digging
in the mud
Another was to Steve Lowton's musings on silence and waiting and the difficulties he has with it. I in turn began to muse on why I don't find waiting so hard and silence is okay. I did spend around 5 years when my children were at school in a wonderful routine of housework, followed by reading my bible, then a walk and in the afternoon doing something creative, most of the time anyway. It was a time of getting to know God deeply and walking out of many things which held me back and a development in being able to listen to God and hearing his voice. That in someways still doesn't explain why I was able to drop into silence and waiting  where my thoughts would wander, but in a good way not just aimlessly, and I could switch off from the world around. I remembered after a while that I had learnt the art at my Grandfather's knee, Ian likewise learnt it in the presence of his Dad. My Grandad and I could watch a fire for ages and not talk as could Ian and his Dad, with no need to talk, we were just enjoying the company of our Grandfather/Father. Little did we realise what a valuable lesson that would be in a busy world full of distractions that we have today. I remember as well the open fire in our family home was a draw on a winter's evening when  all five of us would be sat around reading or doing something quietly, enjoying the warmth and no telly on in the corner blaring away. Wonder if my kids have learnt the art of waiting and silence? 

As you can see it is not so pretty as earlier on in the year.
Rather dark and muddy, nothing a good bit of snow can't
sort out!!!
My last trundle was an article on the BBC about the deserving and the undeserving poor. One aspect covered how people could lose their benefits for up to three years for refusing training or job opportunities. Now I know some folks are lazy and take the easy way out and would rather sit on the dole (for my American friends this is a phrase we use for claiming unemployment benefit) than work, but I am not sure how significant a number that really is but it makes for a good scapegoat when things are bad; what I want to know though is it a real job if the wage on offer is not sufficient to live off? Why should the tax payer subsidise employers who refuse to pay a living wage through the benefits system because its not economical in their eyes of the employers to do so? No one seems to be looking at that aspect of it. There is probably more money spent on benefits for those in work being offered pitiful wages than there are those sponging off the state on the dole, so who are the bigger spongers? Those who are lazy or those who exploit the welfare system to not pay their employees properly? The tax payer ends up paying in both cases anyway.


  1. It is good to know that your long journey to Kuldiga proved worthwhile.

    As you can imagine, there is a lot of unrest and problems in the UK at the moment with all the measures the government is bringing in.

    I agree with you on the issue of the dole money. I know there are some who play the system but there are also very rich people who know the loopholes in the tax system and get away with paying less tax than they should because they put money into other accounts either abroad or in other peoples' names. I think one of the problems with withdrawing dole money from people is that there really are NOT enough jobs to go round. There are often many people going for the same job and only one can get it. While at the same time we still see bankers giving themselves big bonuses. It seems that yet again the rich get richer while the workers get poorer.

    They say we have to tighten our belts but it seems to me that a lot of rich people don't wear belts! I'd better get off my soapbox - but it does make my blood boil!

    On a happier note - at least we haven't got the low temperatures that you have in Latvia but they do say that in Scotland there will be snow this week. Brr.

  2. Glad it's not just me whose blood boils at that kind of injustice. I think there needs to be more and more who say enough's enough and I think the Irish Journalist who described the axis of bankers was spot on.

    So far it is still quite mild here and they have revised the weather forecasts a few times so that the snow appears later on in the week but I would like a couple of inches of snow on my plants before any big freeze happens.

  3. Oh Joanne and Mavis I'm with you both.
    I've been doing inequalities in our Sociology class at college and the fact that some people start so far down the ladder and some so far up is just unfair. The lifestyle choices are to do with the fact that they cannot live anywhere else, go to school anywhere else, etc, etc.
    I've also just read on a Citizen's Advice Bureau bulletin that the government are talking of checking every 2 years if people should be in council (subsistence) housing as they do not think that social housing should be for life, thus making people feel unsafe about taking a job in case it means they lose their home as they could be seen as not deserving any more.
    Sorry long sentence there but...

  4. I shouldn't worry about your sentences Diane, after all it is important to speak out for those without a voice. It is so easy for those in privileged backgrounds to decide what is good and not good for others without ever comprehending the lack of choices they have. Wish I could remember where I read that being poor was more to do with a lack of choice than a lack of money but it is true. A lack of money brings a lack of choice but it goes beyond that as sometimes where you are presents a lack of choice, your education can bring with it a lack of choice, their are so many factors that influence how many choices you really have.


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