Monday, 17 August 2015

The Winds of Change

One day on the way to do a spot of gardening at our
other apartment I noticed these huge practice
climbing poles looking like huge silver logs. The are
for the aborists to practice climbing trees, but in the
years that have gone by they have changed from
brown to grey and in the morning sun they glistened.
This blog comes to you in instalments, so maybe a bit random at times. Back home the summer is passing by so quickly now and there is a noticeable change in the way the wind rustles through the leaves of the trees. I wonder if the rest of the world hears the change too? The song "The Winds of Change" wormed its way into my brain this week and eventually I looked it up. I could remember the general tune and the title being sung in the chorus, but not much else. I'm terrible at remembering band names or even lyrics properly (no sniggering from my children please!). I had forgotten that it was written around the time of Glasnost and the fall of the Berlin Wall by a German band, The Scorpions. The lyrics speak of change blowing through Europe and dreams ignited in the hearts of the young that change was coming. It also spoke of the tension of the time, as soldiers marched by. Those were heady days when the news was unbelievable. I and many others never imagined that the Iron Curtain would fall so quickly.

Ian prepared to do battle with some
hornets that had decided to take up
residence in our barn. Hornets are bad
enough but if they take up residence in a
tree away from where we mainly operate
we let them stay, but the barn is out of
So many years down the line and sitting in a country that was sat on the other side of that Iron Curtain to the one I lived in, it is difficult to comprehend how far this country and those like it have come and yet the echoes of that time still rumble from time to time. I sometimes wonder if Europe catapulted itself into a heady hedonism from which it is beginning to wake up. Blindly, naively, rampant capitalism was allowed to take charge and community suffered. People chased a dream that thought stuff would bring them contentment. Are the dreamers waking up? Are hearts stirring for change? Will the markets finally serve the people and not the people serve the markets? Hope is in short supply at times, but it is hope that can bring radical change, just as it has done before. There is always that brief moment in time when the path of history can take several directions, on the one side down to chaos and on the other to a road that leads to freedom. Not freedom to accumulate more but freedom to live simply, in community with others. Even that road can be a rocky one though, but worth the effort of clearing the path through.
Part of the hornets nest. A remarkable feat of engineering,
just not welcome in the barn.

I love gates and there will be a few
more of these. Also on the High Street

So back to the land, the electric fence to stop the wild boar getting in didn’t work. They got in and trampled more barley and so we have perhaps lost half of it now. It doesn’t help that it has been hot here, at least during the day, and so the ground is dry, which doesn’t help the electric fence. There must be a problem with the set up too as it is loosing too much power from the source and as I mentioned before the battery operated sheep fence is giving a better power output. It is so frustrating, the barley was ready, we just hadn’t had the time to get it in. We did get some cut, half of that processed and the other half drying a little closer to the greenhouse where there is not as much pig activity.

The High Street, Aberdeen. Not exactly the hub of trading
these days, but I guess in days of yore then this was the
very centre of the city. I also imagine that come the start
of the University academic year it will be heaving with
I like little alleyways too. Full of mystery
Ian went to find out about the costs of installing a fence, as the nearby sheep farm has started fencing in their land. It is quite a dilemma, because the cost of putting up a fence will run to about €2000, money we could spend on getting new stock, but the chances are that by next year the African Swine Fever will have taken its toll and reduced the numbers of wild boar. The epidemic is building but still no evidence of it being in our immediate area yet. Once it reaches there will be a number of dead animals, but do we put up with the damage now? Even with a few wild boar around it is still possible to get damage and all it takes is one night to lose a large amount of vegetables or grain to even a small herd of boar. The wild boar rarely used to take people’s vegetables as they were quite shy and stayed in the forest, according to the locals, now they are used to being out in the open and I still wonder if that lack of fear will still not change, even if many get sick and die. So once again it is, shall we or shan’t we?

This street is called Wrights and Coopers Place, so it is fairly
easy to assume that the Wheelwrights and the Coopers were
engaged in making wheels in days gone by. 
I decided to practice some biosecurity this trip because I do not want to be responsible for importing African Swine Fever to the UK, especially since we have had so much wild boar damage and so the risk of importing a disease could be high. I washed and sprayed my hiking boots. I have no idea if I am going near any pigs in the UK or how likely it is that I could spread contamination, but I am taking no chances

A formal garden. I ate an ice cream there
because surprisingly it has been very
warm today.
The rest of the week has been gardening or preparing for a presentation for the conference this next week. I now have to switch back into researcher mode and it doesn’t feel easy with the harvest starting to come in now. I have taken up all the winter onions and they are drying in the barn, courgettes have been sliced, sautéed and frozen, sliced blanched and frozen, dried with salt and solar heat or used in cooking. The beans are starting to produce now at last and so I have had to leave instructions with Ian to slice those thinly and dry them in the solar drier, along with the courgettes, because I know he won’t have enough time to blanch them for the freezer and besides the freezer needs some serious sorting.

The more informal edges to the gardens
I also took a trip to the dentist, as I wanted to be sure I wasn’t developing an abscess before I travelled. I think that the bending over to do the weeding in the heat was making the spot where I had the tooth extracted ache, which was a little worrying. Fortunately nothing was wrong and she said I will probably not even feel it by next week. If I hadn’t have been travelling I wouldn’t have gone, but abscesses and flying do not mix – trust me on that! I have experience and not one I wish to repeat.

But sometimes the edges were also very formal. The flowers
were certainly past their best, but still putting in a good
display of colour
At least the trip to the dentist meant that we could sort out the mobile internet while in the big town. We upgraded to a Wifi unit and 50Gb download limit, up from 10Gb. The lower limit was fine for Ian out on the land on his own (unless it was really wet and he started watching too many Youtube videos), but could be a problem if we are both out there a lot and if I was working. It was also cheaper than our home line by about €5 a month. I wrote to cancel the home line and a very nice gentleman rang of course to ask why we were cancelling, his English was good too, which was a plus. I told him that it was easier for us to have a mobile internet, as we needed the access in an area where we couldn’t use a landline. He then offered us unlimited access but downgraded to 5Mb download speed for a third of what we were paying for a supposedly 8Mb line (Ian tests it from time to time and never seen that kind of speed, which I told the young man). Since it is still handy to have the home line we decided to stick with it at that price. At least it does mean that overall we now pay less for our internet and have Wifi out on the land and at home. 

Even the Scottish flag was in flowers
Ian's mother's house sale went through this week. So that keeps us going for a little while longer. It does take rather a long time in the UK normally, but this took even longer due to some minor hiccups. No idea what they were, but just glad that is all done and dusted. 

Cathedral gates
As I am likely to be away a lot in the not too distant future I got myself organised and uploaded the first terms worth of academic lessons ready for the new year for the online educational organisation I work for. Since the lessons are for a GCSE exam course then there are not many lessons left to prepare, which is good news for me. I heard from one of our organisations ex-students this week, he is now going to start organising students at a small international school to use our organisation - shows how long I have been working there when the students are now becoming the teachers. Scary!

The hotel in Riga. The bed was a little
solid, but not the worse I have known,
so I slept okay.

So for the next instalment I’m writing part of this sat in a hotel in Riga. Only after I booked the hotel did I wonder if it was a place of dubious character. It seems alright anyway and it was cheap enough. I think I’m the only person staying. Everyone else is at the Riga Festival in the centre I think, which suits me fine. Annoyingly the Wifi has a password with Latvian characters in it and my computer will not let me enter non-standard letters. No idea why not. My ipad is also not even seeing the signal for the Wifi, so I guess the internet will have to wait until I get to the airport at an unearthly hour of the morning, because the lady on the desk doesn’t speak English and my Latvian will not stretch to working out how to sort out the internet in Latvian. I was hoping to get away without checking in luggage, but with all the paraphernalia for looking reasonably smart that I needed to carry I wasn’t able to, along with the fact it is hot here in Latvia and I’m going to Scotland – which means I need jumpers and rainproof stuff that is too hot to wear here. Fortunately I am flying with SAS and so the luggage is not an extra I have had to pay for, it just means I need to get there early enough to check my luggage in. I only found out today that I couldn’t check in online anyway, because the second leg of the journey is with a different airline – why that should be a problem for some airlines and not others I have no idea.

That ivy must have been there a few years
And so for the final instalment. My conference is in Aberdeen and on the way I met a largish contingent from the Latvian University who are also on their way to the conference. I don't know where in Aberdeen they are staying, but no doubt I shall see them around again. It is hard to keep good contacts with the Latvians, they are not very good at answering emails and perhaps I need to use the phone more, but I think that sometimes adds stress to relationships when people are not confident in the language, especially with a native English speaker. Oh well! I will try and make sure that more contact is kept this time. 

King's College chapel grounds Aberdeen
One of the things I have been completely bowled over with is how friendly the Aberdonians are. Latvians are quite shy and so smiles and politeness are not particularly in evidence most of the time. When you get to know folks, that is different but it takes time and something I have got used to. So it comes as a shock to meet such overt friendliness. It started when I went for the bus. The instructions suggested that I take almost any bus and ask for King's College. The bus I chose did not go that way exactly but it was close, only 5 minutes the driver said. He was very nice about it. A young Romanian lady overheard our conversation and she offered to help me. She had been on the same plane as me so also had luggage. She got me off at the right stop and the bus driver said "Thank you" to me! In Latvia I always say "Paldies" and I am lucky if I get a "Ludzu" out of them, here they were thanking me before I could thank them. It kind of threw me off guard, but in a pleasant kind of way. Next the young lady tried giving me instructions on how to get to the place, it seemed to make sense but I must have looked a bit puzzled as a gentleman stopped and asked if we were lost. He didn't go on his way, until he was certain that one of us knew which way we were going. The bus stop was apparently outside the young lady's house, so she dropped off her luggage and kindly showed me the way to the university and gave me a bit of a guided tour on the way so I could orientate myself. It was so incredibly sweet of her. 
The view of the gates heading out from
my accommodation 

The all important kettle on the table on the right
So my angel left me at the gates to the accommodation and after that it was fairly easy to find my way around. Inside the friendliness continued, as a gentleman directed me to my room, explained the different keys I needed and then made sure I knew to collect a Wifi password at the main entrance after I got settled down. I almost cried when I spotted a kettle in the room, complete with tea-bags. I so badly needed a cup of tea after my rather early start to the day. 


  1. Enjoy the conference! Unfortunately it looks like rain today but guess you are indoors. Sorry to hear about losing some of your harvest. You'll have to have volunteer workshops!

    1. It is raining today. Not too bad for a Brit originally from the North East. At least the rain is warm and not cold. I am indoors writing my talk, which isn't finished yet, otherwise I would pay a visit to the city centre

  2. Aberdeen is a beautiful city. My father in law used to live there and I loved going up to visit. That song, Winds of change, is brings a lump to my throat every time I hear it...

    1. It is a beautiful city with some lovely folks in it indeed.

      Hope that lump in the throat is a good one, hope the Wind of Change blows some good things your way too

  3. It is interesting that you keep one foot in one world (Latvian farming) and one in another (academia). One of the advantages of our shrunken world I think. I'm sorry the wild boar continue to bother you. It makes our deer problem seem less severe. I can only imagine the damage a herd of wild hogs could do here. We just discovered a large hornet nest above the entrance to our garage. I don't know how I missed it or how I'm going to safely remove it (it's about 20 feet high). Maybe I'll just wait till winter.

    1. It is interesting to keep one foot in both worlds and it helps me to communicate the role of farmers from time to time too within academia. Academics specialising in rural issues, do not always actually get time to understand the farming cycle. They need to really! I wonder if it is not just returning to some of the more diverse types of research that started off the scientific research - only they were gentlemen with resources to study whatever took their fancy. I have a feeling that might have too much resonance in todays world with the squeeze on education.

      As for your hornets nest, I would watch the size of it. We had one last year and it very quickly grew to quite a huge size with many, many hornets. That is why we dealt with this one now, whilst there were only a few hornets in it.


I love to hear your comments and will always reply, so go ahead, ask a question or just say hi