Sunday, 30 September 2012


It's a really good job that we have a large garden here in Romania. Somehow, someway, our little pack of dogs has grown to four in number since we got here, and our dogs live with us, entirely integrated as part of the family.
Now I say 'little' but that doesn't mean that they are all little dogs.

Let's start with Florica. She is a German Shepherd, now very nearly 3 years old unbelievably, and we have been loving her since she was 6 weeks old!. She travelled with us when we came over from England. She was so quiet in the back of the car during the trip that we had to stop to check that she was still with us, but she pee'd on Belgium and pooed on Austria, and that was about it (and yes, before you ask, we did clear up after her, much to the amazement of others at the service area we were in!)!.
When we arrived at our house after about a 26 hour journey, she leaped straight out of the back of the car to play excitedly with Joli, a dog who has been her 'sister' ever since that moment. They loved each other so much at first sight and just romped around the garden together and whenever they sleep, they always cuddle. Joli is a Romanian mongrel who was abandoned onto our property when she was about 10 weeks old. We were in England at the time, but a friend of ours, Alex, was living in our house here and looking after it at the time. He called us and told us about her and he named her after his favourite bar in Deva. 
Then we have Ursu, which in Romanian means 'Little Bear', another little Romanian mongrel, about 7 years old, who we are 'looking after' for some friends who moved to England last year. He is the smallest of all of the dogs, but also the oldest and loudest and most bossy. He jumps fences and takes himself off for walks around the village occasionally, but always comes home after about half an hour to be greeted enthusiastically by the rest of his little pack. Although he lived a typical Romanian life before of very rarely being allowed indoors, he is now fully into life like and Englishman's dog and he loves his little home comforts!
Last but not least we have Boz. Boz is a very nearly 2 year old Caucasian Shepherd Dog who we acquired as a 3 month old puppy (He was soooo cute!). Now, I know that most people from other countries are unlikely to know this breed. They come from the mountains in a part of Russia and are bred to protect livestock from bears, so they are big, very big. he is the biggest softest puppy you could ever meet, although he is always scared of strangers and runs away from them. He loves his home life and his cuddles and fusses, and believe me, whenever I return home and he leaps up, puts his paws on my shoulders and gives me a kiss......I know I've been kissed! In the mornings when I wake too, he always leaps on the bed to say good morning, which is an experience not to be missed if you are a dog lover!
I love it, John and I are definitely part of their pack, and wherever we are they are never far away, and they always want to play! In the evenings, after they have been fed, then it is their favourite time, when we sit, find something stupid to watch on TV and they all curl up with us in their favourite spots.
We can never be lonely with this lot around and they are always making us smile!


Friday, 28 September 2012


This view says all that needs to be said about Deva.
Yes there are plenty more streets, plenty more buildings, but this is the Casa de Cultura in the background, with the new fountain in front and then the statue of King Decebal in the foreground.
It reflects the brave history of Romania together with showing the new pride through reconstruction.
This area is crowded in the evenings with families just promenading along the pedestrianised streets, or just watching the fountain dance, with it's myriad changing lights.
Then there are the hills in the background showing the country around Deva. 
A beautiful sight, a great place to live, a great place to visit.



I apologize for the quality of this picture, but it was taken quickly and from a  distance on a not very good phone camera.
I had to put it up on here though, it is so beautiful.
This is a Roma lady, a true Romanian gypsy, wearing her traditionally bright and colourful clothes. When she sat down in front of the new fountain in Deva we just couldn't resist taking the photograph, it is so perfect.
Her look into the distance and that slightly enigmatic smile reminds me of The Mona Lisa. I wish we could have taken it on our best camera.
We see these ladies all of the time when we are working at the orphanage in Deva, and unlike most people we said hello to them, so now every day when they pass, they smile and nod a greeting. They are walking up from the gypsy houses that are on the other side of the railway tracks into the centre of Deva, to shop or just to promenade a little, always dressed in these beautiful brightly coloured clothes.
It really brightens my day to see them.


Tuesday, 25 September 2012


Now, I have never been a big honey eater, until I got to Romania that is, and this is by far the best way to eat it!
I know that it's obvious, but i never realized before I got here that honey straight from the hive tastes different at different times of the year. It all depends on what is flowering at the time!



Not long after I first arrived in the village to live, when I was wondering around in our garden just taking it all in, looking up at the hills around us, looking at the church on the hill, listening to the chickens and to the dogs barking in the distance.

I looked up and down the road and saw all of the normal things going on in the street, tractors coming and going to the fields, a man cutting weeds at the side of the road, and a group of old ladies just chatting in the sunshine, and watched as they all disappeared from view, quickly..

Then I saw a procession coming down the street, led by cart which was decorated with pine tree branches and pulled by a single horse, which had been especially cleaned of it's usual every day mud and grime from working in the fields. Following behind was a group of people all dressed in their Sunday best, some carrying religious banners.

It was obvious to me that it was some sort of religious festival day, so I ran inside the house where Alison was preparing our dinner for the evening.

"Quick, come outside and bring the camera!", I puffed excitedly, "There is a religious procession coming down the street and it looks fantastic!"

Alison wiped here hands on a tea towel and rushed out, with the camera. The procession was just beginning to pass our house, and I was smiling and waving at the people on the cart and in the group behind. They were all very kind, they waved and smiled back.

I hadn't noticed that Alison's arrival at the fence at the front of our house had come to an abrupt halt, that she was hiding the camera behind her back, and that her head was bowed. I was just smiling and waving, like the idiot I am.

Once they had gone past, slowly, solemnly, Alison turned to me,

"It's a funeral!!"

She avoided using the words 'you idiot', but it was how I felt. If the ground could have opened and swallowed me down at that moment, I would have welcomed it. I could feel my face hot as it blushed bright red, as I crept back into the house.

That night though, at the village bar, a number of people who had taken part in the procession came up to me and shook my hand, smiling.
 I think they were just being nice to the brainless idiot who had just moved into their village!



Deva, like all cities around the world is split up into individual districts.
Districts such as Dacia, Progresul and Calugareni, and then there is the wonderfully named district of Micro 15. Why it is called Micro 15 I don't know.
It is a largely residential area that we have come to know and like over the last few months. It is a great place just to sit, at a pavement cafe, and watch the world go by.
It isn't as busy or as bustling as the main town centre, and maybe not quite as many people promenade through Micro 15 in the evening as promenade through the town centre and down it's pedestrianised streets.

(The coffee is cheaper than in the main town centre too, which also helps!)

The atmosphere in Micro 15 is somehow calmer, less frenetic.
It is a single street, a roundabaout marking one end, beyond which is the 'police' area, and a Romanian Orthodox cathedral at the other.

Now, the casual observer could look at some areas of the city of Deva, and that includes Micro 15, and assume that it is a relatively affluent city. Funding from the European Union has been used well on civic improvements around the city, from pedestrianisation of some streets to the wonderful new all singing, all dancing fountain in front of The Casa de Cultura.
Micro 15 is similar, although not so grand. A little money has been spent here, tidying the pavements and the grassed verges and providing a wonderful, safe, enclosed children's playground. All of the items of red, yellow, blue or green equipment in the playground add a welcome warmth of colour to an otherwise fairly drab area,still grey from the communist style blocks of flats either side of the street.
The number of cars parked down the side of the road could also fool a casual viewer into assuming affluence within the city's population. 
The apparent affluence though is a myth. 300 Euros a month is a good salary in Romania, with the cost of living constantly rising just as it is everywhere else. Petrol costs about the same now as it does in France, Germany and the UK, where salaries are much much higher. So generally both partners in a couple have to work relying on family to look after children, or worse, having to leave quite young children on their own. So kids in Romania tend to be much more independent, much more streetwise at an earlier age.

The advantages though are that prices at bars and restaurants have to be kept low, other wise people just wouldn't be able to go to them, so as a visitor form some of these more 'affluent' countries will find themselves being able to do a lot more with their money.

The pleasure of just being able to sit on a terrace and observe is intense and it is just like it is in a lot of cities across Europe . So much to see, from children and young families just promenading or playing, to Gypsy girls in their brightly coloured clothes, and almost always smiling!

Or the old men playing chess, backgammon, or another local game that I don't understand (yet). these guys congregate to play their games all year round, and even have a specially built shelters for when the weather gets colder or damp. The chess they play is incredible, played at speed and difficult to follow, Backgammon is even faster. 
It looks sometimes as if they are only there because their wives have kicked them out from their flats just to get them out from under their feet. when I watch these guys though, concentrating intently on their games. Occasionally they chat, occasionally one of them gets  up to fill the cut plastic bottle that acts as a watering hole for the birds and the dogs, but usually just concentrating on their games.

It is the most relaxing experience and pastime in the world, and one that I will never get tired of.



Alison's homemade apple pie
It had to be photographed on a Gingham table cloth didn't it?
Occasionally we can treat ourselves to a little taste of home.
Yesterday, Alison treated us to homemade Apple pie, made with apples from our own trees, served with custard of course!


Thank you Darling xxx


Sunday, 23 September 2012


Romanians are proud of their nation.
They carry their nation in their hearts, they carry it in their souls, and they are proud of their nations flag and this nations proud and brave history. (look up 'Decebal, Dacia and the Dacia isn't just the name of the car manufacturer in Romania)
Like any country, Romania has it good bits and it has it's bad bits. I even had one friend, who is proud to call herself Romanian say;

"There is only one problem with Romania, Romanians live in it"

Romanians have a right to criticize though, after all it is their country, but If you criticize, or complain about any aspect of the country, a Romanian might say;

"That's Romania!"

Equally that same Romanian may just give you a shrug of the shoulders and pout slightly, if it happens to you, be warned, because that one gesture means so many things, none of them positive towards you. It could mean;

"You're an idiot....... You don't like it, just leave!....... What did you expect when you came here?...............Be careful, that is my country you are talking about!"

Criticism for the sake of criticism from a visitor to the country isn't taken well, just as you wouldn't take kindly to negative comments that you heard regarding your own home from someone who was just visiting.

There is nothing worse, no worse person than one who 'just dips their tow in' and thinks they know it all.
This is a mad, bad, fantastic, brilliant country full of wonderful people, and no-one can fully understand it just from information gleaned during a short stay here. Romanian life has to be lived, and lived to the full for it to be fully understood.
I live here permanently now, and I don't understand it, but I am prepared to observe and listen and take a BALANCED view.
In any part of the world, if you look for the bad things, you will see the bad things, but if you look for the good things, they are what you see. So? Open your eyes, see it ALL, use balance and judgement and think about what you say and the effect that what you say has on the people of the country you are in. Don't assume that just because you are in a country that doesn't use your language as it's own, that you won't be understood by a local sitting at the next table in a cafe. That could be your worst mistake ever.

In case you hadn't guessed already, I am British. Many years ago, my mother visited London with a group of friends. It was at the time when London and other major cities in Britain were being indiscriminately bombed by the IRA, and precautions had to be taken everywhere to try and ensure the safety of the general public. As my mother and her friends were walking down the street they passed a group of mature Americans (who were old enough to know better), and they overheard one of the Americans say;

"This is such a dirty city, there is trash everywhere and they don't even have trash cans to get rid of our rubbish into"

Now upon hearing this, one of the ladies in my mother's group turned to the American lady and said;

"No you're right Dear, there are no rubbish bins. We can't have rubbish bins because the IRA, the IRA who are supported by money they get from Americans like you, put bombs in them and kill people, so they all had to be taken away"

The American lady blushed deeply and then she and her friends scuttled off rapidly into the safety of a nearby store. I don't know if what was said made any difference to that American lady or her friends, but I hope it did. I hope that it taught her a lot of lessons, including maybe to learn a little about your destination before you leave home and also to be careful about expressing ill-informed opinions out loud. They might just come back and bite you. I am so proud of my mother's friend for having the courage to tell that American lady straight.

I have visited many many countries in my lifetime, and I have loved being in every one of them. I have spent as much time as I can in each with the local people, and going to the places the local people go, I have never been one for just going to where the tourists go and assuming that what I see in those places is everything that country has to offer. I truly believe that in trying to involve myself this way everywhere I go, that I have had a much richer, far more fulfilling experience of those countries than most tourists would have had, but I would never believe that I know everything there is to know about any of them just from my short visit there.

Romania and Romanians get more than their fair share of criticism around Europe, and it is largely underserved. The 'Romanians' criticized most often in the press or on TV in other countries are usually gypsies who might actually be from any country in Eastern Europe, or may even not have a loyalty to any country at all, their loyalties laying entirely with just their tribe or their family. Maybe that is the reason that Romanians, and I, are so sensitive to biased criticism when we see it aired publicly and without balance.

One day I hope to be able to call myself Romanian too. I hope that one day Romanians will do me the honour of allowing me to take citizenship of their country, in the meantime I will do my best to defend it from unfair, outdated criticism when I see it. Fair warning.


Friday, 21 September 2012


Occasionally we all need to let our hair down don't we? this is not for the faint hearted, the weak hearted or those who are easily shocked, so click on the link only if you dare!!!......................................................

Come and join us in wonderful Romania you could be the next star at John's bar!!!


Thursday, 20 September 2012


It really is the little things in life that can lift your spirits the highest isn't it?
Sometimes those little things can come from the most unexpected sources and happen in the most unexpected places too.
To be honest, times are a little tough for us at the moment and occasionally it is difficult to keep smiling
We have spent almost the whole of last week on our computers night and day just trying to spread the word abut Romania, and yes, to be honest, trying to drum up some business which has been really slow this year.
So, having been in the house all that time, last night we scraped together some change (and it really was that!) and went down to the bar for just one drink each (total cost for two beers and one tuica is about £1.10, so honestly it wasn't too frivolous of us was it?)
After a slow amble down the road, we got our drinks and sat down with about a dozen friends who were already there.
A short while later, Momo arrived. 
A sneaky picture that we took of Momo last winter
Now, what can I say about Momo? He is a man I have enormous respect for. He has a severe curvature of the spine which bends him over all of the time, and makes it difficult for him to walk. He has a speech impediment which makes it very difficult to understand him, and to be honest, he is a little smelly so he is made to sit apart from the others in our local bar. This man though, walked all of the way from the other side of old Yugoslavia to get back home. (That's a walk of over 900 km, through some pretty inhospitable country) Doing it he lived on nothing but nuts and berries he could pick from the side of the road. His strength and determination are an example to everyone of how to overcome personal adversity to be where you want to be.
(I learnt this morning that Momo is actually 84 years old, I can only respect him so much more now)
He lives on a small pension, and every day he goes into Deva to collect yesterdays dry bread from shops and restaurants, which he uses to feed the stray dogs he meets on the way home. They know him and they wait to get their daily bread from him, always wagging their tails in delight to see him.
When he feeds them he always says, "Please don't bite me", as if they would.
For a couple of months now Momo has been playing a game with us, giving our friend John the free children's toys he gets out of a snack packet. Now John is in his mid 20's and we aren't really sure what made Momo start doing it, but he always gives those toys with a  smile and a little giggle and it has been a real delight for us to have this connection with him.
Last night Momo decided to give me the toy for a change, laughing loudly while he did so. It was a white plastic lollipop shaped toy that when you switch it on it flashes alternatively red and blue, a little like a light on top of a police car.
We joked that we should use it in our car to clear the way when we are in a hurry.
As we sat enjoying our drinks slowly, the evening wore on and it became darker and darker, so obviously the lights in the toy could be seen more and more clearly.
I switched it off and left it on the table in front of me.
As we sat talking a few more people came into the bar to sit on the terrace, including a two year old boy, Alex, and his grandmother Rodica. Alex is a lovely boy, full of smiles, and he and his grandmother sat next to us while he drank his fizzy orange drink.
Alison was talking to Rodica and playing with Alex, and I looked at the toy on the table and thought that it was wasted on me, so I lifted it up and handed it to Alex, switching it back on as I did so.
"Vrai?"......("would you like it?")
Alex's face lit up brightly, just like someone had also flicked a switch on inside him, just as I had done with the toy. He had an enormous grin on his face as he reached out to take it from me. Alex spent the best part of the next hour playing with that toy, smiling and laughing.
Momo had left before Alex arrived, but I wish he could also have seen the delight that Alex took in having that simple toy and watching it's flashing lights, he would have loved to see it.
We walked back up the road to home with Alex and Rodica, and we were all smiling and laughing all of the way.
What had started out as being a 'low' time for us yesterday evening turned into a real highlight, typical of the magic that is Romania, and is the village and the people of the village.

We also have to say thank you to another good friend, Sebby who bought us a couple more drinks while we were there, returning a favour we had done him some time ago.

That hour or so in the bar though did so much to lift our spirits and to remind us what life here is really about. It's about the people,and the children, and the smiles on their faces, which are so infectious. They are smiles that you carry home with you in your heart and they are smiles that sustain you through the night.



I feel so honoured.
Thank you all so much

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Tuesday, 18 September 2012


I understand that Britain is suffering from a shortage of apples this year.

Well it isn't true in our garden here in Romania, we have an abundance of apples from 3 old trees that have hardly ever given fruit before.
Our poor apple tree, so weighed down by fruit that it's branches broke

Ironically, we have always planned to make cider for ourselves, because you can'y buy cider here in Romania, so (because of the lack of fruit from the old trees in previous years) we planted five new apple trees in Spring. I think the older trees must have realized and got the hump, because they have given us so much fruit this year we aren't sure what to do with it all.
Anyway, today has been all about collecting the apples. We have already eaten a fair number directly from the tree so today is about collecting those that are left before any bad weather sets in.
I think we have, as a rough estimate, about 1 Ton of apples to collect, in three different varieties.
It would take an expert to identify each type of tree and I am no expert, but one tree gives relatively large red/green sweet apples, one gives small green sweet apples, the other gives small green sharp apples.  
I have done some internet research and I think that these would make a nice mixture of apples to make cider with, which we are definitely going to do.
Two older trees still waiting to be picked

Unfortunately we don't have all of the right equipment to make cider in large quantities, so we are going to adopt a simple American method using kitchen equipment to make a couple of batches.
I know, I know, we are Philistines. British, from the home of the best ciders in the world, with all of these apples and we are going to use an American recipe???. This time though it is a matter of 'needs must'.
Homemade wine as well as a home made spirit called Tuica are very popular in Romania, and as a result the equipment needed to produce large quantities of home made booze is relatively cheap.
Just some of the apples picked so far
Fruit pulper's, fruit presses, large barrel's, demi-john's in all sizes, botlles, corks, airlocks, are all readily available, however I'm afraid that we just don't have the money to buy everything we need this year, so we are stuck with the kitchen appliance method.

Using this method though there is no way we will make use of all of the apples we have, so, rather than letting them go to waste we have offered them to our friends in the village, and it turns out that they can make a version of Tuica from them.
Now Tuica (pronounced Tsweeka) is a home made hooch, normally made from Plums. It's a sort of strong plum vodka, normally made to be about 40% proof, but can occasionally be as strong as 70-80% proof. It's powerful stuff, but it is absolutely delicious, if something of an acquired taste. 
If you can't make it for yourself (and let's face it, not everyone has a Still at home do they?), a 100ml measure of it can be bought from the local bar for 2 Lei.
Time for an amount and cost comparison I think.
A standard single measure of spirit in Britain is 25 ml, so 100 ml is the same as 4 single measures in Britain, i.e 2 doubles.
Now a cheap shot of Whisky, say, in a pub in Britain costs I believe in the order of £2.50 in bars in and around London (I know it is variable across Britain but this is just a comparison exercise after all), so four Whiskies (i.e 100 ml) would costs around £10.
Well 100 ml of Tuica in village bars costs 2 Lei, roughly the equivalent of 40p!!!!!
Is it a surprise that it is  a popular drink amongst the workers in the villages?

Now don't get Tuica confused with the poisonous stuff they are finding at the moment in other Eastern European countries.
That is a blend of industrial alcohols that the makers know are poisonous, they just don't care about it.
Tuica is made at home by experts and is checked by experts, and a duty is paid on it before consumption, and it is safe. After all, the guys who make it want to drink it too, so they are going to make sure it is good.
The making of Tuica is a social occasion and can go on for two or three days, during which much of last years brew will be tried. The plums, once nicely matured and soft (and as I have said sometimes apples) go into a large barrel to be heated and they are stirred for hours, sometimes days, depending upon the size of the barrel. Effectively this does all of the pulping and pressing for you as well as reducing the water content of the juice and taking out a lot of the poisons that might be there. Only when the resident 'expert says it is ready is the fire put out and the juice extracted and strained to leave the pulp behind.
The juices are then distilled, once, twice, three times, until an acceptable clear spirit is obtained and Tuica is produced.
I am giving a very rough description of the method of production , because, so far I haven't witnessed it personally. With 1 Ton of apples to give away though, I am hoping that I will be part of it this year, and I will write again when I have been.
I will also let everyone know how the cider goes. The recipe looks very simple, so lets's hope it works!!


Monday, 17 September 2012


I like coffee.
No, I love coffee.................ooh how I love my coffee.
For years whilst living in Britain and travelling a lot around the world I have tried and I have sampled many different coffees.........but..........I have never found my 'perfect' coffee.
I like it simple, black and strong and ever so slightly sweetened, too sweet it takes the flavour of the coffee away. After all, you can always add more sugar can't you, but it can never be taken away.
So? You'd think it would be easy to find the perfect coffee for such a simple recipe wouldn't you?


You couldn't be more wrong!

Now don't get me wrong, I have nothing against the large chain coffee outlets who serve things like 'double de-caff Sudanese fair trade fine ground low-fat caramel machismo' black stuff with a mountain of cream on top, but it isn't coffee is it? If that's what you like, great, but don't call it coffee.

And as for de-caffinated coffee? ..............................................WHY?

Nothing wrong with small marshmallows on the side either, but they should never be on top of cream on top of coffee, save that for children's hot chocolate!
The simple black coffees you get from most outlets too are either tasteless or too watery or too bitter, never a happy medium.

OK OK I know coffee is a personal thing, I know that we all have all our own tastes and our own preferences, just as we do in everything in life, but coffee, coffee is important.
It's what gets you going at the start of the day, it's what keeps you going during the longer days and longer nights of toil.
It lifts your spirits (Talking of spirits it can go down very well too with a Tuica chaser).
Stop it Steve....too early in the morning.
Coffee supports you, caresses you and at times keeps you sane, so it's important! Get it?

So, here am I, typical English businessman, occasionally travelling to various countries across Europe on business and for pleasure, and always trying the coffee. Some I tried wasn't too bad either, but only ever abroad, never in Britain, not until I started to see small cafes with the 'Illy' sign outside (No I don't work for Illy, this is not and advertisement). It was at these establishments that I started to find acceptable, but still not perfect, coffee, which was always a simple Espresso or Double Espresso with tiny bit of sugar.

So, many years ago I set out to make my perfect coffee at home, and of course, being typically British at the time, that meant buying some sort of machine to do the work for me. I tried them all. 
It started with that type of jug that had a plastic filter holder on top. Put the paper filter in, add a couple of spoon fulls of ground coffee from the plastic, conveniently re-sealable packaging that you bought it from the supermarket in, boil a kettle and then slowly pour the water over the coffee and watch it drip brown liquid into the nice clear pot. Then wait, until you can top the water up again without it spilling all over the work surface, and keep repeating this until you have a full which time the coffee is already cold.....and the wait wasn't worth it any way.
I know, things have moved on a lot since those early days and there are many more machines available, many more complicated and expensive machines.
I tried them all at one time or another, caffettiere's that when I put the amount of coffee I like into them, poured the boiling water into, and then pressed the plunger, the bottom would come off!! Too much pressure you!, as well as ramblings about coffee, but imagine the mess that had to be cleared up. It even happened to me in a restaurant one evening.....(at least i didn't have to do the cleaning :)
Expensive percolators that you would stand and watch bubble away for what seemed like hours before you could actually drink the was entertaining (I'm easily pleased!) but never, ever the perfect coffee.

Cartridge machines.......huh........they should all be shot.

'Instant' coffee? Quick, convenient way of making hot dark liquid from dried poo!!!

So many different machines, gadgets, aids, all in search of the perfect coffee.
It all culminated in me buying, about four years ago, a VERY expensive coffee machine from John Lewis's (No I don't work for them either! Not any more anyway). I won't say how much I spent, I'm too ashamed. It was one of those machines that you put the beans into the top of, put the water into a separate receptacle, and then just turn it on.
It filled the work surface in my kitchen so much that there was nowhere left to do any food preparation, but who cared, the perfect coffee was coming! Who needs food????
Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!!!! It went, very loudly as it began to grind the beans. Bzzzzzzzzzzzzz!!! it continued because I had set the dial to 'strong', which needs more beans, obviously, Duh!.
Bzzzzzzzzzzzz!!!, until finally, it stopped, then 'plop, plop, hisss, shhhhhhh, hiss, plop, plop' as the machine heated the water to make me, at last, that perfect coffee.
Imagine my delight the day I brought that machine home, this was it, it was going to be fantastic, at last my perfect coffee and here it was, doing the work for me. I watched and I watched fascinated by the chemical processes  that were occurring hidden away inside this machine. It even had a Thermos jug which would keep my coffee hot for me, and dream of dreams........a timer!........Hey! I could set this up at night, set the timer and then come down from my bed in the morning to a heavenly aroma (in my usual zombie-like state) and just pour my perfect, freshly ground, freshly brewed coffee.......................

.......'Heaven, I'm in Heaven, la-la-la-la......hmmmmmmm'.............thanks Frank, that's enough.

Eventually, the machine stopped making it's oh so promising noises.
My coffee was ready, at last, here it was, I savoured the moment.
Lifting the jug from it's plate I slowly poured the beautiful black nectar into glass cup that I had especially chosen so that I could see and marvel at the perfect colour.
 I filled the cup, then lifted it, slowly so that I could smell that beautiful aroma, mmmmmmm not bad.
I added just a tiny bit of sugar, and then lifted the cup to my lips. 
It wasn't bad, not bad at all, coffee it certainly was, but it was bitter, too bitter, and there was an unpleasant after taste too that I never did fully understand (no it wasn't oil in the machine I followed all of the instructions to get rid of it and even after many uses it never went away).
My heart sank to the cold tiles on the kitchen floor, the problem is that it was sooooo close, but still not perfect.
I persevered, oh how I persevered, for months and months I persevered. I played with the settings on the machine. I played with them so much I ended up having no idea of where they all  were (I found myself wishing that it had a 'restore factory defaults' button, but it didn't).
I bought different types of coffee bean, I blended beans myself, and the results weren't bad.
I tried everything, but never, ever achieved that perfect coffee. 

I remember reading a science fiction short story once, many years ago, about aliens who visited Earth and set about perfecting everything. One of the first things that they perfected was coffee.......they made coffee taste as good as it smells......that's the real secret isn't it?
That's what I wanted, but I resigned myself to the fact that I would never find it, after all, even though I live in Romania now I'm hardly likely to bump into an alien with a jug full of perfect coffee am I?.(Well actually, anything is possible in Romania, but even here this is pretty unlikely)

So, one day, here I am on another visit to Romania. Actually, the coffee here isn't at all bad in most cafe's, at least I kept telling myself that. Either my taste buds are getting old or I really have resigned myself to accepting what I am given and knowing, perhaps, that perfection doesn't exist, other than in my other 'alf, Alison, of course!!!!
It was she, she who should be worshipped in all things for what she has done, who finally delivered the perfect coffee to me.
We were in a supermarket together, and there hanging on display hooks were some red enamelled jugs, with pouring spouts and long metal handles. She picked one off of the shelf, pointed the price out to me, which was roughly the equivalent of 75 pence (remember that, it's important!) and put it into out trolley, I just looked, smiled, nodded compliantly.
A 75p supermarket Ibric
Then we went to the coffee shelves. Now coffee is popular in Romania, so the shelves are stacked with all sorts of different varieties of coffees, beans, instants, ground stuff, it's all there. I found myself looking at them and wishing I had brought my machine with me to be able to try some of the more expensive ones, but if I had bought it, it would have filled the boot of the car (who needs clothes anyway?)
Alison was searching too, but in a different part of the display. She held up a non-descript small brown bag and asked,

"Can you see one cheaper than this?"

Now as you might imagine from what has gone before that, 'cheap' has never been part of my thinking when I have been searching for the perfect coffee. I just looked at her bemused, and she just looked back at me with that little knowing smile on her face that she always uses when she is being patient with me, and when she knows something that I don't. We looked together, but couldn't find anything cheaper so it too went into the trolley and off we went to the check-out.

When we got home and unpacked our shopping Alison set about making us some coffee, I watched, fascinated by the process, but with no hope in my heart that what was about to be produced would be anything more than bearable, and only just about drinkable.
In went some heaped dessert spoons full of the brown powder from the bag, there was no careful measuring of quantities, it just went in until Alison thought there was enough. She then cheated a bit, pouring boiling water from the kettle over it rather than just relying on cold water from the tap, because this would have taken longer. Either she was impatient to see the look on my face when I drank it, or she just knew I have no patience at all and I was thirsty. Either way it seemed to me to be a haphazard way of doing things, this was supposed to be coffee after all, a thing of beauty, a blessed thing that has to be treated with care and reverence, and not just thrown into a cheap pot and have boiling water poured over it!!
Then she placed the pot onto the gas ring and started to heat it. It got warm very quickly, and this is where real care has to be taken, because as it gets hot it rises very quickly to the top of the jug and if it boils over it makes a horrible mess of the hob (I learnt this one from bitter experience). She lifted the jug until it cooled a little and the boiling ferment inside calmed down, then placed it back onto the heat. Slowly but surely, and with repeated liftings and lowerings the brown scum on top disappeared and clear, glossy brown liquid appeared. the aroma was delicious, and my mouth began to water it smelt so good. I still had no hopes for it though, after all, a 75p pot and coffee that had cost around 50p? What could it do.
After juts a couple of minutes Alison declared the coffee ready and turned to put just a little cold water from the tap into the pot (apparently this helps the grounds to settle more quickly).
She placed the pot onto a place mat on the table, then went to get cups and some sugar.
We sat and we waited for just a minute or two, and all the while she had that knowing smile upon her face.
Then she poured the coffee, carefully,slowly,  it flowed easily from the pot so she wanted to be careful that the coffee grounds stayed in the bottom. Once poured, she added just a little sugar (she knows me so well folks) and handed a cup to me.
I tasted it........................................I tasted it........................................I tasted it.................................... I simply couldn't believe what my taste buds were telling me last................perfect coffee.
But how could this be possible, a 75p pot? A 50p bag of coffee?? 
It was just impossible wasn't it???
It only took a few minutes to make???? 
After all of the hundreds, maybe thousands of pounds that I had spent over the years, £1.25 had been spent producing a whole pot of perfection. This was more than one small coffee would cost in London, so it was impossible wasn't it?
Wasn't it? I tasted again, and it was true, perfection passed between my lips, over my tongue, down my throat and into my stomach and just kept on going down.
I had finally found coffee heaven, and I had Alison to thank, just as I have so many other things to thank her for.

There's an obvious moral to this story isn't there? Finding perfection isn't about the amount of money that you spend.
I have analysed it, and we still search for the cheapest coffee we can find whenever we shop, and no matter what it is, it always produces that perfect coffee. So it must be the fact that the coffee is boiled, none of the machines I tried ever really boiled the coffee, but it must be this that removes the worst of the bitterness and brings out the full flavour of the coffee.

That's got to be the answer hasn't it?............................Or is it possible?..................even faintly possible?.........................That (drum roll.......wish i could insert 'The Outer Limits' theme music at this point)..................could it be that Alison is actually one of those aliens from the short story?



OK OK I admit it, I haven't written for 3 days.
No excuses, just haven't been sure what to write.
We've also been busy on Twitter. 
Somehow, someway, we need to convert interest we have in our websites (  and into bookings, and twitter appears to be the best means we have of generating interest in the sites.
The strange thing is that it doesn't appear to matter what we write on Twitter. We tried for a long time to be informative about Romania, about us and about the kids, but didn't get much interest.   
Then my other 'alf (She who must be obeyed above all others) started putting up quotations about children and then children's jokes, all of which I re-twitted. 
Guess what? Interest and hits on the sites!
Such a random thing to happen, what a daft world we live in.
Still no inquiries or bookings though, so what should we Tweet today?
The simple truth of it is that without the bookings and the income they generate our work with the kids here will have to stop for a while until we have some money again, and that is the last thing we want. We love that work too much, we love the kids too much.
This year we had a great family from America who all came stay and volunteer together. It was  a bit of a dream come true as we had spoken before about how great it would be for whole families to volunteer together and here they were, and they were everything that we had dreamed a family could be, and more. They were absolutely fantastic with the kids, and they made full use of their time taking trips to places they wanted to see and staying in hostels, as a family.
We also had two young ladies from Ireland, both of whom were adopted as babies from Romania. This was their first trip back and it was a real emotional roller coaster for them. They made me realize something that I should have realized long ago, and that is that occasionally this programme can be more about benefiting the volunteers who come than it is about the children we work with. One of those young ladies wants to come back for a holiday soon, and bring her baby daughter with her and we can't wait to see them.

Oh! For those of you who have read earlier blogs and been waiting for photos of the mad karaoke and party nights. I'm afraid we didn't go, so you will just have to wait until next time for pictures of us, but I will post some up when we get pics from our friends who did go, we know they had a great time.
In the meantime here is a picture of me doing karaoke with the effect I was having on a younger fan. I think it was Eric Clapton's Cocaine that did it!


Wednesday, 12 September 2012


So what does Wednesday bring us?
Well, it's the middle of the week....................obviously!
While all of the other people in the village have been carrying on with all of the necessary chores they have to do we allowed ourselves some time to concentrate on other things.

We have been invited to a 20's, 30's' 40's, 50' and 60's fancy dress party on Friday night and we have been trying to work out what to wear.
We had some ideas but nothing fully sorted, so, when you are in that sort of a quandary here in Romania what do you do?
You head for the second-hand clothes store of course!

Yes yes I know there are second-hand clothes shops in Britain too (sorry don't know about anywhere else), but in these you really can find a real bargain occasionally. Prices start from 1 Lei per item and go up to about 5 Lei in most shops. If I tell you that at the moment £1 is worth 5.50 lei, then you might realise just how cheap we are talking.
Conveniently, most of the second-hand stores in town are situated quite close to each other.
This is an odd phenomenon in Romania, similar businesses do group together in specific areas of town. 
There is one area that we call the 'funeral' area because that's where all of the funeral parlours are, and another that we call the 'flower' area, because that's where all of the flower shops are (not too far from the funeral parlours, obviously!). So it isn't too difficult to cruise through all of the shops looking for bargains, or in our case, just looking for inspiration.
So that's where we have been today, trying to get ourselves ready for the next part of our hectic social lives.
Tomorrow night as well is our regular Karaoke night at John's Bar ( 
Apparently it is going to be different night too, because an old friend is returning from France and we all want to make it a special night for her. Lots of plans being made for that one, about what songs we will sing, how we will dress, etc. Maybe, just maybe, we will put some photographs, or perhaps a video on the blog so you can all see how great a night it is.
Deva is full of great places to go, great cafe's, bars, restaurants, there are so many places to choose from. 
Avoid places called 'Nightclubs' though, unless you want to go somewhere where ladies perform in various stages of undress that is! 
Places to dance here are still called Discos, or just stick to the bars, you can dance and sing in all of them anyway, and they only close when you leave!
Well we ended up not buying anything today, but we will be back again soon, trying to snap up a bargain or two. As for the parties, we have them sorted, but we are keeping it all secret until the nights.
You will just have to wait for the photos and videos won't you?


Tuesday, 11 September 2012


So it's Tuesday today.
For most people around the world Tuesday is a pretty nondescript day, not the start of the week, not the middle, nor the end, just the depressing day after Monday. 
For us today (Tuesday) is the day when we will be clearing and preparing the wood store and moving wood we already have inside.
Rain is forecast for the weekend so it needs to be moved under cover. The strong sun we have had has dried it well, but there is no guarantee that the sunshine will continue.
The wood we will be moving today is a pile of planks and old cut pieces that were once used as scaffolding or formwork for concrete when our house was extended.
In Romania this type of wood even has it's own name, it's called Scandera. It's not the best wood to use in fires as it is soon gone once it starts burning, but we have a large stack of it outside, and we need to get rid of it, so this year we will use it.
Old planks like this burn well so they provide a quick fire and gives us a rapid heat, which I know we will appreciate when the cold sets in, which can sometimes arrive very suddenly.
It will also supplement the proper logs that will be delivered to us soon and so will make sure that we have enough wood for the whole of the winter.

When our logs are delivered we will get one of the local workers to do the main part of the chopping for us. It's hard work and it takes expertise, which the guys in the village really have as they have been doing it all of their lives.
We will get our friend Blondie to do it, and we will pay him for the work and feed him and give him a little Tsuica, which is the way it is done around here. 
Blondie is very dark skinned from spending a whole lifetime working in the full sunshine in the fields. It isn't our nickname for him, it is what he has always been called by the other people in the village. I was so white when I arrived here from England that Blondie immediately nicknamed me 'Darkie', so for that winter whenever we went to the village bar for a proper warm up, it was always 'Blondie' and 'Darkie' together.
During our first winter here we were desperate for heat. We didn't have the wood burning stove (Cazan) for the central heating fitted, nor had I fitted the free standing wood burner at that time (Soba). All we had to keep us warm was a small open fireplace in the lounge. This fireplace has a very poor chimney so whenever we used it for that first winter it filled the house with smoke, staining from which, I am ashamed to say you can still see. we have been so busy with all of the other work we just haven't had a chance to get up to it and clean it.
I arrived here from England with absolutely no experience of chopping wood, but I knew it had to be done, and I thought.....

 'Well, as long as I have a sharp axe it can't be that difficult can it?'

If you have never tried chopping wood, I can tell you that it is a much more difficult task than it looks to be when the experts do it!
I tried, I managed to get a few small pieces for the fire. In trying I made the logs fly off of the block and hit me in the shins on what felt like about a thousand occasions, covering me in bruises. 

Once I was chopping with a small hand axe and it bounced off of the wood and caught me on my left hand carving a two inch long graze into it. That evening we were sitting in the village bar and I was so embarrassed to have this obvious axe injury on my hand that I tried to keep it hidden under the table, out of sight of the 'experts' surrounding me. Of course it was eventually spotted, by Blondie actually, and all of the guys we were surrounded by pointed at the cut and laughed. I blushed, but as they laughed they all put their own hands on the table, and they all had cuts, grazes, bruises and bandages from their own axe injuries! I felt a really fantastic level of acceptance that evening and also respect from them (as we toasted our injuries in Tsuica) for the fact that I was actually trying. I wasn't doing the usual expat thing of just not bothering and paying someone else to do all of the hard work, I was trying to do it myself. I still have the scar from that injury on my hand, but now I wear that scar with pride.

I tried different axes, I used electric saws, but I just couldn't keep enough wood chopped, so we covered ourselves with quilts and about three layers of clothing, and that is how we spent most of that first winter.

In the end, we relented and we asked Blondie to come over and chop the remainder of the wood for us. We paid him, of course, and we fed him, but we made a mistake with the Tsuica. When Blondie arrived that day we immediately gave him hot coffee, a packet of cigarettes and a bottle of Tsuica, and off he went with them into the wood store and started chopping. The day wore on and we could hear the sound of wood chopping going on all of the time. We fed him at lunchtime and asked him to rest but, typical Blondie, he just kept going. 
At the end of the afternoon it got dark very quickly. There is no light in the wood store, but we could still hear the sound of the axe hitting wood, slower than earlier in the day, and accompanied by a lot of swearing. When we went in to check on Blondie he had very obviously drunk all of the Tsuica we had given him (which was about 2 litres....much more than we should have provided). The axe was waving precariously in the air above Blondies head as he was closing one eye to try and pick out which one of the two or three logs he was seeing to hit. He staggered as the axe came down, it missed the wood and bounced dangerously straight back towards Blondies face. We watched this process for a few seconds before telling him to stop and rest. He had cut an enormous amount of wood, perfectly sized for the central heating stove. it was much more than we had expected him to do, and we told him so. He looked at us, as he rocked from side to side and back and forth in the typical 'Tsuica dance' that we have seen on many more occasions since, and he wafted his hand towards us dismissively. We gave him his coat, we paid him, and off he staggered down the road slurring to us loudly that he would be back in the morning to finish the job.
We didn't really expect Blondie to arrive the following morning, but there he was first thing, bright as a button. Within  an hour and a half he had finished chopping all of the wood we had, and he had given us enough to last the whole winter, and enough to save my hands and shins from further injury!

Real friends in this village really do go that extra mile to take care of each other, and those are the sorts of friends that we have here, but we have learned now to give Tsuica once the work is finished, and not before it has begun!