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!


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