For the last three weeks, I have been In Bulgaria helping David (step-brother) renovate his property. The internet and phone connections are extremely slow and variable and were not even working for the first week I was there, so keeping up with family news proved nigh on impossible. On the one occasion, I did manage to get a phone connection, I gave up after I was repeatedly disconnected just seconds into a conversation. Resorting to communication by email also took many attempts to send before success. Frustratingly, David had brought a new Sony Notebook to use for communications, on the surface a good idea, but as a touch typist the small keyboard is an absolute nightmare to use and I had to resort to using one finger and a pair of glasses. Eventually, I gave up and dug out his old Sony Vaio which was getting dusty in one of the bedrooms and connected that to the internet. Things were much improved and as a bonus, I also had a source of music to listen to while typing.
Back in the UK, Nan had her sister Josie visit for the week and Genya also popped around on a couple of occasions to tell her how much she was missing David. During the weeks I was away I believe she had her hair permed three times and she and Josie went out for lunch an awful lot. As usual, during the day she watched a lot of sports on the TV, much to the disgust of her sister.
Sue’s health has continued to improve, borne out by the fact that she looked fit and well when I returned. While I was away, we would communicate daily by email (when Jamie let her onto HER laptop). I got the impression that life seemed to go on as normal, and it seems my absence hardly affected the smooth running of the household, if at all. The weather obviously missed me as her daily reports mentioned heavy rain and floods with the country nearly drowning itself!
As soon as I returned, Sarah shoved a piece of paper in front of me containing her interim grades, of course, they were excellent and the expected monetary reward was forthcoming. She is continuing to see Lee and we are expecting a visit from him soon.
Jamie is again unemployed and occupying his time by concentrating on choosing a new car. He is still seeing Harley, though this week she is spending the weekend at Centre-Parcs with her family.
Charlotte has been ill again with a nasty tummy thing that she has been struggling with for quite a while now. She has had a blood test to determine what is wrong, but the results were inconclusive and they have decided to retest her again at a future date. I think the NHS just needs the blood! Despite her not feeling well, I recently discovered my eldest angel not only does a lot of charity work and helps out with disabled children, but she now walks dogs for elderly people who have a short stay in the hospital. Not only do I feel like a very proud dad, but reassuringly it is looking good for when Sue and I reach our dotage!
Bulgarian Demolition Job and a spooky encounter!
Having arranged with David to travel to Bulgaria together, the journey did not go quite as I expected. I duly booked myself onto the same train to Luton as he was travelling on from Sheffield, to discover that he had chosen to travel First Class! I guess that put me in my place as to who was the property owner and who was the migrant labour. However, we did sit next to each other on the flight and he drove drive me to Ritya. I suppose that made him the chauffeur and I the wealthy tourist?
In Ritya, it rained for the first two nights, but the rest of the days were either warm or hot with striking blue skies, with chilly, starlit evenings. This might give the impression that we saw much of each other, but we did not. Apart from discussing over breakfast the tasks for the day, the rest of the time was spent apart, mostly indoors with occasional forays outside to cut wood, fetch plasterboard or feed a feral cat that had taken a liking to us. We would meet up for exchanging tools, hold materials, lunch and the evening meal, otherwise, we would be busy in different parts of the property.
Our new pet wild cat is male, and I think he bathed as often as we did in those three weeks. One evening while David was stroking him in the lounge, we discovered that he was covered in little friends who later dined on David, bringing up a nasty swelling on his back.
We employed a Bulgarian plasterer who came on most days to plaster the walls and ceilings that we had not so carefully torn down the previous day. His name was Mincho and like all Bulgarians, he loved rock music. He was a nice guy and despite having only a smattering of English we had many a chat about the many British rock groups he had seen in Bulgaria, and who I had seen when they were much younger in the UK. On one visit he kindly gave us an invitation to see King Crimson in the old Capital of Veliko Tarnovo, but unfortunately were far too busy working to go. I did, however, discover a radio station that played 24hr non-stop classic rock and we had it on all day, every day (to keep Mincho working). After three weeks of non-stop rock music, I couldn’t believe that after 56 years of listening to the gene I would never tire of it, but I did!
Mincho’s girlfriend was the daughter of the electrician from the local power station who came occasionally to do some rewiring, he seemed quite ill and on the days he didn’t turn up, we suspected he had died. His name was Vlado. His working practices were certainly Bulgarian. After we had ripped out the wiring in the upstairs lounge so that they could be re-routed, he loosely installed lengths of cables which he left dangling from walls and ceiling together with the sockets and left. Despite being told they were not, it was later that evening when I discovered that both the cables and wall sockets were live. As we were going to plaster over the cables that evening, we had to isolate the circuits before I rewired the sockets and David then plastered them in place (we did this in the dark, it was safer than having the lights on!) The electrician returned four days later looking very ill, we sympathetically said nothing of the dangers he had left us with last time.
He had come to re-install the central heating system which didn’t work properly and he had fitted. When he started to drain the system, we left him with it. Thankfully, it did work better after he refilled the system, he replaced the expansion tank with a larger one. The previous tank had been in the bathroom, and the new one was now in the loft, which he left unlagged and in Ritya the temperatures regularly go down to –40° C. in winter.
I originally thought we were just going to ‘do’ the upstairs lounge, but, I soon worked out that if David stood still for any time, and looks puzzled, he is contemplating destroying whatever has got his attention! Not surprisingly we also went into destroyer mode downstairs too.
We started every day between 7 am and 8 am (he would bring me coffee in bed, to wake me up) and finished around 9 pm, though one day we did start at 5 am and finished at 2 am the following day with only a stop for a slice of cheese on toast lunch. It’s strange, but we were not hungry. Usually, we ate twice a day, once, for lunch, I made omelettes for eight days running followed by four days of chips and fried eggs. The omelettes I made were not small affairs, each one would contain ten eggs. For variety, sometimes I would add cheese and sometimes mushrooms and occasionally both. David loves eggs, whilst there we consumed in 186 eggs (that is not an exaggeration) and five loaves of bread. Due to a predictable biological reaction on David’s part, it probably would have been worth it to convert the house from a wood-based source of heating to that of a gas-based one. It would only take a few short lengths of piping and meant less fetching and carrying of heavy logs. If I never see another egg it will be too soon!
Often, in the evenings we would drive to Dryanovo to eat. The restaurant food there was good, though coincidentally most dishes contained cheese and often eggs. No matter which eatery we patronised, you were more likely to get your dessert before the main course and it was potluck whether you got the dish you thought you had ordered. But, it all usually tasted nice and at 10 pm were not going to question what the chef had decided to prepare.
David treated me one night by finishing early and then driving over the mountains to Gabrovo for a meal with another English couple that he knew. He said it would be a scenic drive. He had borrowed a car from his friend five months ago and he now wanted it back. David drove his own Dodge, while I drove the borrowed car, discovering its iffy brakes and dim headlights, following the Dodge’s tail lights along narrow roads that were in atrocious condition. In pitch-black conditions, we drove through a quarry at the top of a mountain and nearly ran over a horse, a dog and a lone jogger. Really? Must have had my eyes shut. As a thank you to his friend, David paid for the meal. It was pleasant to have different company and a change of conversation from the usual, ‘What shall we destroy next?’ On the return journey, David chose the less scenic route which turned out to be along a good and well-lit road.
A list of things we destroyed in three weeks:
Upstairs lounge ceiling, floor, fireplace and walls. 2 bedroom ceilings and walls, 2 downstairs ceilings, kitchen ceiling and bread oven. All of the trees that surrounded the perimeter walls. We also rewired the lounge, kitchen and one of the rooms downstairs. Plus installed security lighting outside and a CCTV system based in the loft. Nearly fixed the smoking wood burner downstairs. We also built a hidden room to store all of David’s expensive tools and electrical equipment.
We caught a weasel and re-housed it in one of the neighbour’s barns. We also discovered quite a lot of woodworm and treated some of it. Remarkably we only disagreed twice on plans of action, and it didn’t take him long to work out that I was right.
We left Mincho a lot of plastering to do as we had put up over 40 plasterboards and pulled down quite a lot of walls. Wall removal wasn’t hard as it was made of a combination of animal muck, straw and mud.
During the first few days we ripped down the wooden covering on the upstairs lounge ceiling, we were exposing the wooden beams and were then going to plasterboard between them. When the ceiling came down, besides lots of dirt and dust we also brought down between 2-3000 walnuts that weasels and rats had stored there over the last 100 or so years. After brushing all the debris from the now-exposed ceiling, David went downstairs to make coffee and I started to sweep up all the dirt and nuts into a pile in the middle of the room. Then something threw a walnut and hit the side of my head, it really did hurt. It hadn’t fallen from the ceiling, because I caught a brief sight of its trajectory as it came at me from the side, I automatically flinched. I looked around and I was on my own. Bravely (I think) I said loudly, ‘You will have to do better than that.’ I carried on sweeping. When David appeared with the coffee I told him what had happened. He then told me about an incident that I will expand on later.
A couple of days later, in the upstairs lounge I was channelling out new routes for the electrical cabling into the walls, there was a lot of dust in the air and a fair bit of the wall had been removed. David was finishing screwing the plasterboard to the ceiling. When I had completed the channelling, David disappeared downstairs to fetch some more screws and probably have a sneaky smoke outside (lazy git). I had just started to sweep the debris into the middle of the room when again, something threw a lump of mortar which hit me on the back of the head. This time I hadn’t caught sight of its trajectory and didn’t react to lessen the impact, it hurt! I nervously scanned through the airborne dust and I was alone. Moments later I heard David in the kitchen below making coffee. This time I said nothing to my unseen assailant and quietly got on with sweeping, glancing furtively around in case any further missiles came my way. I didn’t tell David about this incident until about a week later, hoping he would have by then owned up to being the culprit.
Both incidents happened very late at night when I was in the room on my own and David was elsewhere in the house, thankfully nothing further ever occurred. My bedroom was accessed by a door opening onto the lounge and I slept undisturbed and like a log every night. Occasionally, in the small hours, I would wake and walk through the lounge to visit the toilet, and I never saw or heard anything even mildly spooky.
Earlier that summer, in one of the rooms downstairs, David installed an old wood burner (Petchka) that one of his English friends had given him. He in turn had acquired it from an ancient and derelict house in his village. He had used it for a while, but now it was surplus to his needs (he said). As soon as David installed it into the fireplace, strange things began to happen. For instance: when he left the room he would automatically switch off the lights and on returning a while later, the lights would be on. He tested the switch by turning it off and left the room only to find the lights on when he returned. The lights could be switched off while he or Genya was in the room and wouldn’t come on again until they left. Unsurprisingly, the haunted wood burner is now in bits in the barn outside. Weirdly, as soon as it had been removed, the lighting problem stopped. Spooky!
Our return journey to the UK was quite eventful. We had a 2 am taxi from Ritya and travelled to Vittoria Tarnovo and there caught the 3.30 am bus to Sofia. We arrived at 6.30 am and got a taxi to the airport. We chose an official yellow metered taxi, David confirmed the fare before we boarded and he was told it would be 10 Levs. However, on arrival outside the airport, he demanded 76 Levs! Unfortunately, our suitcases were in the locked boot. David refused to pay. The taxi driver (who looked Gypsyish), got very irate. To calm things down, I fetched a policeman from inside the terminal. He thoroughly checked all the taxi driver’s documents and his car, but everything was in order, and it was our word against his. The policeman reluctantly agreed it was a scam and that we had no choice but to pay up. David got very stubborn and professed that he would not pay and besides he didn’t have any more Bulgarian money. The taxi driver retorted he would accept foreign money. In desperation, I enlisted help from a very nice lady from the airport information desk who spoke very good English. She agreed it was a terrible scam and that it happens all the time. Lying, I told her I had a heart condition and that I was two hours late in taking my tablets which were in my case. I stressed I needed them now as I was not feeling well. She informed the policeman and he ordered the driver to open the boot. Quick as a flash, we grabbed our cases and at the same time, David offered 20 Levs to the driver. When he refused, David placed the notes onto the bonnet of the car and as we marched into the terminal, shouted, “Sue me then!”
The rest of our journey went to plan.
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