Monday, 23 February 2015

Now where am I?

Do you see that browny green stuff
down the path? That's grass! Oh yes!
The snow is gradually going
I had a lovely Skype chat today with my friend in America, who I met at my first academic conference in Florence.  Part of the time my supervisor joined in the chat to talk about academic things to do with my paper that I have been writing for ages, but we also had time for a good old natter. My American friend's first question was "Now where are you at the moment?" Good question! It is only mid-February and I have been up to Estonia three times already this year, as well as back to the UK and off down to the very far South-East of Latvia. Today I am at home! Having said that I have only just got back from Estonia, some of which was planned and some a last minute arrangement.

The ponds are beginning to show themselves too, although
Ian is wondering where all the melt water is going, because
the ponds aren't filling up
I knew there was not much point in booking interviews too far ahead, because from previous experience, that can mean they can get cancelled at the last minute and that is not easy when it takes a day to travel up. As soon as I got back from the UK I started enquiring as to when I could meet up with some "real" Estonians, in other words just ordinary folks not connected with the university and I tried to organise it so that it coincided with the rearranged doctoral seminar (the one that got cancelled and somehow I didn't get to know until the last minute). My answer came on Tuesday afternoon, could I make it up by Wednesday evening. My heart sank, would I be able to make it or not? I consulted with the Estonian bus webiste and it at first did not seem possible, as it looked like there was only one bus a day that connected. I was just about to decline when I decided to look up where I was going on the map and see where the website was routing me. At this point I found out it was routing me with an out of the way place and I could just as easily take my normal route up to Tartu and then catch a bus from there and those buses went about every hour and half - now that was more reasonable.

The castle gates of Põltsamaa. This
suffered a lot of damage during the
Second World War. It also houses the
towns wine cellar. Apparently the town
is the wine capital of Estonia, but not
wine from grapes but Estonian fruit
and berries. The town is also renowned
for its rose gardens
After scrambling around to get ready Tuesday evening, I set off from home on the 7:15am bus the next morning. I met up with the Masters student who is doing most of the interviews in Tartu and then we travelled up together to his home town, Põltsamaa. We were met by his father in a mini bus at 6:15pm and so after eleven hours on the road we were straight off to our first interview. Fortunately the type of interviews I do are more like homely chats and so it was not too hard a job. I just wanted to know what it was like to be an Estonian and a little about the way Estonians think, trying to weigh up along the way what differences I could detect from the average Latvian - whatever that might be. The Masters student's father sat outside for the whole of the hour and a quarter interview, but I guess he is used to that as he is a bus driver who drives his own buses.
Now if I remember the story correctly, this
statue is of a famous musician. He gets
pelted with eggs and flour at the end of
the year and the graduating students then
have to clean it up. At least I think that is
the right way around and why they do this
I'm not quite sure.

This was Lustivere the village where I did the interviews.
They are very proud at having won village of the year last
year and this bench celebrates that
After the interview I stayed overnight at his parents' house and was treated very well. Better than a hotel any day. I had roast chicken, veg and potatoes for the evening meal and in the morning giant pancakes with meat, cheese, pickles, sour cream, jam and some gorgeous honeys, one with blueberries in it and one with the honeycomb (not all together I might add). As our next interview was not until 11am there was a chance to chat with the parents. Of course the pictures of the alpacas came out, since people usually want to know what we are doing in rural Latvia and the pictures of the grandchildren. The mother of the family said I should really come back in summer when it looks much nicer, but I explained that I rarely get to travel about in summer these days, since it is the busiest time of the year on the farm. Still it was nice to have such an invite and it certainly made me feel very welcome.
I was given this rather nice pincushion after one interview

The river in Põltsamaa. I can't remember now how many
bridges there are along the river, but there are a lot of them
After a tour around Põltsamaa I was off down to Tartu in preparation to attend the doctoral seminar the next day. That was fairly uneventful but at least it meant being able to touch bases with both my supervisors - which is a miracle in itself, if not exactly startling news. One asked how I was getting along and how the interviews were going just after the seminar and one with a more general chat over lunch. One of the most annoying parts of the last few days though is that in my rush in the morning to get ready for the bus I forgot my computer charger. It serves me right for being on the internet and losing track of time, but it did mean that it was hard to do much work on my travels. I did at least have my iPad and so I could check my emails and read books but the time dragged much more this time. Such a shame as I really felt like I was getting the hang of utilising my travelling time to get stuff done. I did manage a bit of work on the iPad, but most of what I really needed to get done was still on my computer and not so easy on the iPad.
The old people's home in the former manor house in Lustivere

Hmmm! I think I got the best deal. I got moved in with
four more ladies
As for news down on the farm, we have had chicken chaos this week. Last Monday we decided to do the chicken change around. The young broiler cockerels in Ark 3 were being picked on by the more mature one and we knew they would need changing around soon anyway. It was a little like one of those games where you have to move a piece so that you can move another one and it had to be done in order or it wasn't going to work. First we moved out the cockerel from Ark 2 that was going to be culled into a basket to await his fate. The two young cockerels were moved into to take his place, as they were not as closely related to the hens in there, unlike the one removed who was their brother. Next the cockerel from the ark we call Ark 1 was swapped with the other two from Ark 3, a female broiler hen and the bossy cockerel.

What did you move me for? Life was so peaceful before
The hope was that moving the cockerel and the hen together would make it easier on the hen - it did not. Broiler chickens seem to be more docile and since she hasn't reached egg laying maturity yet, she is not so aggressive as the older laying hens. We are still waiting to see how that move goes, as she is still being picked on. There was a lot of squawking and complaining going on in the Arks even as we culled the male we had removed, until suddenly one of the young broiler chickens crowed for the first time. Suddenly peace descended and we decided it was time to make a move and go home, leaving them to settle down for the evening. Ian had to move one of the young broiler cockerels out though later on in the week, because the absence of the older bossier cockerel meant they both decided to boss around all the hens in Ark 2, so he has been put in with the cockerel from Ark 1 and after a short flurry, they settled their differences. We don't want to cull the other males just yet as they are probably heading for the outdoor free range accommodation, but it is too early yet and they can go out when the snow is gone and we are sure they are surplus to requirements in the Arks.
Sofie finding the warm spots again

Aggie or to give her her proper name Grizītes Agnese
Ian has been training Aggie to the halter this week. She has been really good and doesn't seem to mind the halter at all. He is thinking of getting her out on a rein, once he has found a halter with a good fit. Unfortunately the ones we have are a tad on the large side to be trusted to hold her firmly enough for a walk, plus the paths are still too icy at the moment and Ian doesn't want her slipping and getting freaked out. Although halter training has been going well, Aggie hasn't been a good alpaca all week. One day she tried to playfully butt Ian. Ian had to stamp his authority pretty firmly as he doesn't want her growing up thinking she can do this. He told her no and firmly but gently pushed her away. She seemed to have got the idea she had over stepped the mark and now she takes a little more care at approaching Ian. All good training to ensure she is people friendly but not a nuisance to anyone.


  1. We seem to be gaining more and more alpacas around us , but it still seems a little odd to find them staring over the fences .

    1. We were surprised to hear how big it has become since we left the UK. I can't remember seeing any before we left. I think that is happening in many other countries too

  2. We have some chicken shuffling of our own to do. It does create a bit of a stir for a while. :)

    I'm going to show my geographic ignorance with this question--what language is spoken in Latvia? I'm guessing Russian, and that Estonians speak it as well (perhaps it was imposed on them?). Is there a common language that you use for your interviews? Just curious...

    1. Many older Latvians and Estonians do indeed speak Russian, but Latvians speak Latvian which is similar to Lithuanian and has sprinklings of German, Swedish and Russian in them but are not related linguistically. Estonian is similar to Finnish and so completely different to Latvian. Russian was imposed on both nations during the Soviet era and so it can be a bit of a sore point, although some older people still speak Russian because it is easier for them, after speaking it for so long. There is also a significant number of Russian speaking people who are not regarded as nationals by the states, another sore point. This site is a good site to get a lot of general information on Latvia

      For the interviews I have two Masters students who conduct most of them, I have been there for some of the Latvian ones, just to see how they were handled and ask a few questions myself - then I have some context for the results. I asked to interview some Estonians as I have not met many Estonians outside of Tartu and so I needed to find out a little more.


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