Bled – simply bled

The Slovenian town of Bled is the stuff chocolate boxes were made for. I’d been hearing about it for years as it popped up on other people’s top places to see and having been, I think I’ve been the victim of over hype. Yes, it is gorgeous. And, yes, it does have a history. But it’s a victim of its own popularity.

At one stage in its chequered past, it was taken over by a bank:

From 1809 to 1813, it was included in Napoleon’s Empire as part of the Illyrian provinces, then it came once again into the hands of the Austrian Emperor who returned Bled to the bishops of Brixen for the last time in 1838. With the abolishment of the feudal system ten years later, the estate lost its character of a feudal economic and social unit. In the second half of the 19th century, Bled changed considerably. The characteristic villages of Gorenjska, which had been autonomous units ever since the Middle Ages, were united. Income decreased, and in 1858 Brixen sold the Bled estate to Viktor Ruard, the owner of the Jesenice Ironworks. He kept the castle, the lake and the usable land around it, and sold the rest to the Kranj Industrial Company. In 1882 Ruard sold the estate to a Viennese wholesale merchant named Adolf Muhr, and in 1919 Bled hotelier Ivan Kenda bought the castle with the lake – for the first time the property passed into Slovenian hands. In 1937 it was taken over by the Associated Commercial Bank and finally bought by the Drava Province. During World War II, Bled was used to house the German military and civil headquarters, and in 1960 it acquired the status of a town.

But it is tourism that it has to thank for its recent prominence. And kudos for that goes to a Swiss guy by the name of  Arnold Rikli. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, he recognised the benefit of the climate and the long swimming season. Rikli was one of the avante-garde for natural healing  and it’s to his industriousness that the town owes its stronghold as a tourist attraction.

 

The island on the lake, with its chocolate-box church is stunning. The castle, perched atop a near cliff is breathtaking. And at night, when the lights come on around lake, it’s fairy-tale material. We ate out both evenings. Once in Ostarija Peglez’n  – a gem of place with a seafood platter so big we both winced at the thoughts of doing it justice. But we did. It’s busy so reserve at table if you plan to eat between 8 and 9pm. The following night, we went for meat – at Grajska Plaza. It’s a little more relaxed and the waiter was in fine form. We had to wait for about half an hour for food as it was all cooked to order and the reasonably priced cocktail menu made it worth the wait. A lovely spot right by the boat dock. They don’t take reservations but there’s a fairly quick turnaround. To get a lake-view table, best leave it till 9-ish.

We rented a boat to get out to the island – €20 for an hour but if you go about 6.30, they’re not too pushed about time, as long as you’re back by 8pm when they close. I felt a little cheated though, as once out there, it was a €6 admission fee into the church. And as a practicing Catholic, I hate paying into churches. Am happy to leave a donation towards the upkeep but don’t make me pay to light a candle. Anyway, we’d left it too late so I had to settle for an ice-cream, which was worth the trip itself, even if I did have to take on a dozen loud hyperactive seniors from China to keep my place in the queue.

As you row out to the island, you get to see some rather fabulous houses that have an unrestricted views of the boatloads of tourists being ferried back and forth in a new take on the Venetian gondola – the pletna boat.  

Bled is lovely. Beautiful. Quaint But it’s way too populated for my liking. We turfed up about 4.30pm on a Wednesday and didn’t have any traffic delays but when we left about 10.30 am on Friday, there was a 3 km tailback coming in to the town, and when we’d arrived back the previous evening about 5.30, there was an even longer tailback leaving. A popular spot. Time your comings and goings to avoid the frustration. And be warned, hotels charge per person not per room – so do the math.

Next time, I’ll do my homework. I can’t believe I missed these cemeteries, assuming, of course, I’m taking gravesite to mean graveyard… perhaps it’s a lot more subtle – the kind you have to trip over to see.

A number of gravesites are well known: Žale – the site of the modern day cemetery (archeologically excavated in 1894), the park at the current Vila Bled (1929), the necropolis in Želeče (1937), the large necropolis at Pristava pod Gradom (1948 to 1951), the gravesites next to the current parking area below the entrance to the castle (1960, 1968) and the necropolis on Bled island (1962 to 1966).

It’s a lovely spot, Bled, but be prepared to share.

 

I feel love

Slovenia has it nailed. It’s taken the LOVE in its name and turned it into a complete marketing campaign that makes efforts by the Hungarian Tourism Board look half-arsed at best. Many years ago, I was in a car with three generations of Slovenian males. All spoke excellent English and I just assumed that they’d each spent time abroad. But no. None of them had ever lived anywhere else. And why would they, they asked, somewhat incredulously, when Slovenia has it all.

They say that when God was creating the world, he gave each country something special, be it lakes, mountains, volcanoes, whatever. He must have gotten a little fed up with all this creating because when it came to Slovenia, he gave it everything: mountains, seas, lakes, waterfalls, valleys, great wine … and the list goes on.

We were en route to Lake Bled when, as often happens on road trips, a sign took my fancy. Ptuj. How would you even begin to pronounce that one, I wondered. (I asked: it’s p-too-ey). Himself had a vague notion that it was the oldest town in the country, so we detoured.

And he was right. As is his wont.

We went to the bank to change some money and were laughed out of it. Despite being neighbours, they’d no interest in Hungarian forints. I was a little taken aback but hey – their call. We found a less discriminating ATM and armed with euro went for a coffee, the first of many mediocre brews we’d have over the next few days (this despite the Coffee Stories fest the town hosts each year). Slovenia might have it all in terms of natural beauty but it has yet to master the brew. The loos in this place were quite something (and it was a nice place), with some unusual wall art going on. You had to pass through the gents to get to the ladies where the picture of a women baring her bits over the urinal might have tempted a weaker man to linger. Interesting to say the least. But these two strikes were it. It was all up from there.

Inhabited since the Stone Age, the town has retained its charm and has capitalised on its history. The juxtaposition of old and new was amusing: ancient Roman tombstones forming a backdrop for motorbikes and camper vans. Love it. We did climb up to the twelfth-century Ptuj Castle but didn’t go in – the view was worth it. And had the old, narrow cobblestone streets been able to speak, they could have told a story or three.

A visit to the Tourist Information Office had us pencilling February 11, 2018 into the diary as the town has its Kurentovanje festival – something similar to the Hairy Man festival at Mohács in Hungary. Definitely one for the books, if we can find accommodation. Apparently it attracts close to 100 000 visitors each years. Nothing like having to plan ahead. And when I go back, the country’s oldest wine cellar is also on my list of things to see. It has a wine that dates back to 1917.

The town is also home to good wine. And apparently produces a Sauvignon Blanc that rated first among lesser equals earlier this year. Another note to self for 2018.

Salon Sauvignon 2017 took place in Ptuj on 20th of May. Dominican Monastery hosted 64 Winemakers from Slovenia (far the most), Austria, Croatia, Serbia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, France and New Zealand, who offered a chance to explore, evaluate and enjoy 120 samples of Sauvignon Blanc. 

The church was impressive and yet, over the course of the next few days, it would lose a lot of its impressiveness when compared to a chorus of others that thread through the country. The countryside is rife with religious houses and places of worship. It could give Malta a run for its money when it comes to roadside niches. That said, this one comes with its own guitar-playing, football-loving singing priest. That’s hard to beat.

As a reminder of how things are in Slovenia (it’d been a while for me), the stop-off at Ptuj was a great start. The people are lovely – very helpful, friendly, and knowledgeable. They realise the importance of tourism to their livelihoods and know how to work their service accordingly. English is widely spoken, too, and there’s plenty of information available in multiple languages on what’s going on.

Speed limits vary according to the type of motorway – it’s there’s a shoulder, you can do 130 km/h. If not, then the two-lane highways are 110 and country roads are 70. I’ve a sneaking suspicion that I’ll be hearing from the authorities. Don’t forget to get your toll pass before you cross the border – €15 for a week – as the fines for not having one are pretty steep. And do wander off the motorway. There’s no telling what you’ll find.

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So,  your neighbour (she who is not talking to you since you put up the fence), when one of her chickens wanders through your house (in the front door, and out the back, having a right nose round on the way) and then lays an egg on your porch before disappearing – do you own the egg? Can you eat it? Or should you return it because you don’t own the chicken? These are just some of the first-world questions plaguing me this week.

We finally succumbed and bought a wrought iron garden bench made by a blacksmith who is a regular stallholder at Liliomkert market over in Káptalantóti. We’ve hovered and hummed and hawed each time we’ve seen him and his benches. Similar, garden-variety, mass-produced stuff is nearly as expensive so we bit the nail and bought. He dropped it by on Friday. Which meant that the bench in residence under the cherry tree had to move upstairs to the guest room and the bench that was there had to move out, down to the kitchen. Which meant the fridge had to move to make room.

It’s been the bones of two days now, and still, each time I go to the fridge, I head to the wrong corner. Every time. Without exception. It’s as if I’ve been programmed. And this set me thinking about how much other stuff I do on automatic pilot, without thinking. I find it terribly difficult to be present and yet know, deep down, that if I could master the art, I’d save myself wasted hours, days, and weeks in wondering whether I’d turned off the oven, locked the door, remembered my passport. I’d know, because I’d have been consciously doing whatever I was doing. It sounds so simple yet I can count on one hand those I know who manage it, daily.

I’ve been doing, doing, doing for what seems like forever. I left himself in residence when I went to the city to meet friends from Alaska earlier in the week whom I’d not seen in, what, 15 years? Their plane had been a day late so they missed out on the Balaton trip and instead contented themselves with a couple of days in the capital. He was delighted to have a few days without a to-do list. I’d been pretty relentless. Never sitting. Never enjoying. Constantly doing. I have this thing about not wasting time. I’ve lost a few very dear friends in recent years and I’m very conscious that time is limited. But methinks I take it too far.

The lovely RM and family came to visit on Friday. On their way down, she crocheted me a watermelon prayer flag for the terrace. She had two hours to spend in the car and that time she put to good use. It’s beautiful. And it hangs where I can see it, next to my Pura Vida sign from Costa Rica and my Namaste, a present from CG from Nepal – a daily reminder that I need to spend my time more wisely. And for that reminder, and those who contributed, I’m grateful.

 

 

 

A niche too far?

Budapest has emptied. The tens of thousands who descended on the city have gone home. Sziget is over and by all accounts, it wasn’t nearly the success it has been in previous years. The week-long music festival has been running for 25 years and this is the first year it hasn’t been run by Hungarians. Or so I’m told. Apparently, the same US crowd who run the weekend Coachella festival in California have taken it over and their influence was visible.

I went myself, for the first time, back in 2014 and had a blast. The novelty was quite something. To see such a well-organised temporary city within a city was evidence of the extraordinary logistical feat involved in catering for daily crowds of up to 80 000 with few, if any, incidents of public disorder. I went then because I got a free ticket. This year I paid because I wanted to see Jamie Cullum again, having thoroughly enjoyed his gig last year at the Veszprém Fest.

He was on stage at 4pm, so we set out about 2 to have an hour or so to wander around before having to pay attention. This time, himself was the virgin. It was Day 1. Pink had played the day before on Day 0 and the five-day passers wouldn’t arrive till the next day. There didn’t seem to be nearly as many as I’d expected and the crowd was somewhat subdued. I saw far more chairs and blankets and lots more sitting around this year. Perhaps it had to do with the heat. It could also have been the music though.

Jamie, God love him, is brilliant. But outdoors at 4pm in 30+ heat ain’t his gig. Still, though, he gave it welly and his 70 mins were great. A short break and then Tom Odell took the stage. They’d said I’d like him but he didn’t do it for me at all. Biffy Clyro, though, they were brilliant. And for all the mad roughness that their appearance screams, they’re gentlemen. Now them, them I’d go see again. And I’ve note to self made to get a CD for the car. They’re driving, stay awake, sort of stuff. I have it on good authority that they got their name because one night, sitting around stoned (hey, it’s what I heard), one of them asked the other to pass a Cliff Richard fan pen, the Cliffy biro. It came out the Biffy Clyro. It makes a good story.

Between acts, we wandered around and looked at what was on offer. Much the same as 2014, there were some additions – like the fun fair. With the Italian marionettes. There’s also a museum quarter where all the museums in Budapest had taken a stand. Skanzen, the traditional Hungarian village centre from Szentendre, was there, too, complete with its games from the past. Various causes were well represented and this year they seem to have had a full theatre and a comic gig or three. I was taken with the recycling efforts but despite handing out free portable ashtrays and offering rewards for bringing back bags of trash, the place was littered with cigarette butts and empty cups. It wouldn’t have taken much had everyone picked up after themselves, but as I say, this year seemed different.

I was very disappointed in the wine village – a paltry offering that was overpriced. And the food…. what we hadn’t wasn’t great but of the hundreds of outlets, we only tried two, so it could well have been the luck of the draw. Perhaps my expectations were too high. But in talking to some Irish friends who’d gone the VIP camping route this year (as opposed to bring your own tent as they did last year) they, too, noticed a difference. More drugs. More booze. More trash. And the music was more mainstream but very much focusing on electro (is that the right term?) dance. Last year, they said, they’d had to juggle to get to all the gigs they’d wanted to see (there’s about 1000 in all over the course of the week), but this year, they’d time on their hands.

Hungarian friends tell me they stayed away because they didn’t recognise the big names. I thought it was just me, which wouldn’t be surprising. But those they knew weren’t their scene. Seems like it’s niching up and playing to a particular crowd – Scandinavians and French.

We rounded off our evening at the Music Box where Ripoff Raskolnikov was doing the business. I’d already seen him earlier that week at Kobuci Kert for his birthday gig. But I wasn’t worried. When he and Nagy Szabolcs (keyboards) get together, they don’t play set pieces. It’s more of a ‘what’ll we play next’ sort of thing. which is good if you’re a regular – you never get the same gig twice.

Sziget? Yes. For a day. But only if there’s someone you really want to see. The experience has become expensive, very expensive, and many are being priced out. The offer is more limited and while the novelty factor is still there, I doubt I’ll be in a hurry back. That said, if Ed Sheerin were to head it up, I’d be there. But if it’s going down the dance route, he’d hardly be their first pick. Let’s wait and see.

 

2017 Grateful 19

Flies poop. And they poop a lot. And they’re pretty indiscriminate about where they do it, too. Lightbulbs. Electrical cords. Walls. Windows. Benches. Ledges. Floors. Curtains. Everywhere. Anywhere. And while you might never notice, once you do, you see it everywhere. I know. I’ve spent the better part of two days cleaning up after the unsightly buggers, millions of whom have enjoyed an extended holiday at ours (before it was ours) for years. We’re caught between chickens on one side and goats and sheep and a donkey on the other, so the flies are right at home. So far, I’ve identified three types: big ones that buzz and don’t bite; medium-sized ones that don’t buzz or bite; and smaller ones that don’t buzz but bite – nastily.

They’re clever buggers, too. They can fly through locked doors and closed windows. My latest effort is to paste sticky butterfly pictures on the windows. These are supposed to lure the flies to an ignoble end or scare them away – am not quite sure of the translation. But so far, they’re like handbags on a dance floor in an Irish disco – the flies are just buzzing around them. Fly sprays are ineffective (and nasty) and fly papers don’t work either. My Hare Krishna friends, if their religion allowed it, would kill me if they knew I’d bought a couple of fly swats. But my reflexes are so bad, I can hear the flies laughing at me.

Any natural suggestions anyone? SH – is your bat colony available for rent?

But back to the clean. We’ve visitors arriving this week from Alaska and more at the end of the month from Minnesota. And the house has to be clean. What is it with us Irish and visiting Americans? Back in my bank days, I remember a woman coming in and asking for a loan to put in a new kitchen. Her young fellah was coming home from America on holiday and bringing his American girlfriend with him. And this called for a new kitchen! And going into debt for same. Piranha pine, she said. I remember it well. Little did I know that decades later, I’d be knuckle-deep in fly poop days before the Yanks are due to land.

Anyway, back to the clean. The builders have left. Finally. And I miss them, in a weird sort of way. But I’m glad they’re gone and that we now have a new bathroom and a new manhole (so christened by the inimitable MI). The carpenter still has a few bits to finish but I’m sure he’ll get around to it this side of Christmas. And what with the middle of the house looking so new, the kitchen end had to be cleaned, too. As had the windows. And the damned cement tiles, which are still resisting all efforts and concoctions and remaining stubbornly dull and listless.

I had help. Lots of help. My ministering angel was on hand. She’d come to visit for the weekend after spending 11 days walking around the Balaton (some 240+km). I suspect this was the last burst of energy before the crash. I took shameless advantage, I know, but she will get her due reward. The painter has finished the outside, too. Or at least as much as he can do until the shrubs are cut back in late September and the plasterer has done his repair work. Perhaps the carpenter can come then, too, and we can have a party.

Reality has hit. No matter how done I think I am, there will always be something to do. There’s no getting away from it. But I’m grateful that I’m still enjoying it, that the improvement is visible, and that we are blessed with good friends to share the load.

From this:

 

To this:

 

 

Those how have been paying attention over the years will remember that my bathroom in Budapest was built around a candle holder I got from De Wimmen on my 40th. This one has as its inspiration The Dance of Time, a framed sculpture from the Wild Goose Studio in Kinsale, Co. Cork, a Christmas present a number of years back from the queen of design, SF.

The manhole isn’t quite finished but to GP and PF, the outdoor light has been worked in, cleverly, methinks 🙂 Hould yer whist.

2017 Grateful 20

I had it all planned. For months. Ever since Ripoff said he was doing his annual birthday gig in Kobuci Kert and I decided to have my birthday drinks there. Tickets were bought months ago. All sorted. Invites sent out. People had planned. But the universe decided it wasn’t to be. Massive thunder and lightening kicked off about 5pm and the city was under a sheen of water. We made it as far as the metro station, dodging a deluge of spray from passing cars speeding through puddles. And just as we were about to board, the phone call came. Gig postponed. Till Monday. Plan B needed.

For the last number of years I’ve had my b’day drinks in the local pub and why should tonight be any different. Facebook posts were amended. Phone calls were made. Texts were sent. And more than 20 stalwarts braved the rain to come to Grund.

I’m on record as saying I don’t need stuff. I have enough to last me a lifetime. But the stuff I got was great. Tasteful. Designery. Lovely.  The candles, the ornaments, the plants. And from others, I got experiences. We’ve way too much fruit in the garden in the village. And while the lovely EB was giving me recipes for pear sorbet, I was promising the fruit of my pear trees to K&A to turn into pear cider. Considering I’d gotten a personalized bottle of their apple pálinka, it was the least I could do.

 

I love the creative. I love people who dare to take the piss out of me and what I’m doing. But it takes someone who is sure of where they’re at with me to do that. I made mention of HC a few blogs ago, him who instigated what is now known as the Athlone Accord. Well, he did creativity in spades. For his birthday, he got a a guitar-shaped fried-egg shaper. For mine, I got this.

Considering my consternation about what it so has only recently been deadened by an acceptance of what is, I was particularly piqued by this gift from the the S’s, parents of the three loveliest children I’ve met … ever. And me without a maternal bone in my body. This is screaming for hammock time.

But of everything I received this evening, this has originality written all over it. It came prefaced with the Trump message at the top of this blog. And I was scared. I’ve been banging on for years about experiences being the best presents (with consumables racking up a close second – loved the wines and the dinners) but stuff I can write about??? Magic.

For those of you who don’t read Hungarian – I get a lesson in how to drive a bus (a full-sized bus) and then get to take 30+ of my mates (if I can find 30 brave souls) on a one-hour drive! How cool is that?

I’ve just turned 51. I got the wrong pizza at lunchtime. My gig got rained out. But 20+ people braved the thunder and came to drink with me under a tarp at Grund. We partied. They left. Some stayed on and came back to mine. Those diehards have finally left, and now I can go to bed, grateful, very grateful, that I have friends.

The cancelled gig is on tomorrow night. The trip to the village has been postponed. And I get another night in the city.

 

Hungary happened

I’m not a great one for making plans. Most of my major life decisions were taken on the spur of the moment. I’m definitely a heart-over-head type. There’s a closetful of clichés that talk about regret, and intuition, and going with your gut, and if I had a rule by which to live, it would be to go for what feels right. At the time.

Some 10 years ago, I decided to see what it would be like to spend time in Budapest. I knew nothing of the city other than a glimpse I’d had on two separate weekend trips some four years apart: one in the dead of winter and the second in an unseasonably warm spring. I liked what I saw. I liked the feel of the place. And I’m on record as saying that I believe Budapest has an energy about it that I’ve not found anywhere else. I’ve been at my most productive here and somehow, everything seems possible, even when I’m banging my head off a bureaucratic brick wall and decrying the city’s ability to make the simplest act hair-tearingly complex.

I’ve seen the city change. District VIII is a case in point. Ten years ago, it was probably the least desirable address to have in the city. Today, with the development around Corvin Negyed, Corvin Sétany, and the walk between Klinikak and Nagyvarad tér, it’s one of the most attractive. The castle district has undergone a facelift as has the parliament and a host of other buildings and churches that dot the skyline. Shops and restaurants and cafés have come and gone but the delightful old stalwarts are still there, places which take enjoying a cup to an art level.

The politics hasn’t changed much. The pendulum swung a little left and then a little further right but it keeps swinging. Antisemitism, never far from the surface, is obvious to greater and lesser degrees. Likewise, the pervasive attitude to the Roma. Public involvement in how the country is run has enjoyed various upswings and downswings with the passivity scale hitting minus figures at times. Hopefully, though, it’s on its way back.

Like a lot of capital cities, Budapest is often perceived as epitomising the whole of the country. Those who have visited on a weekend break will claim to have been to Hungary in the same way as Dublin tourists think they know Ireland and Parisian visitors think they know France. But if I’ve learned one thing over the course of the ten years that I’ve been spending time in Budapest, it’s that Budapest is not Hungary, not in its entirety. It’s like a city-state within a larger state, where time runs faster, imbued with an urgency and a sense of must-do or must-be-seen-to-be-doing that sets it aside from other cities in the country.

Like every other country on the global map, Hungary has its detractors and its supporters. Blanket statements of Hungarians being miserable, never smiling, always complaining, amuse me. I file them in the same bin as claims that every Irish person is an alcoholic or every German was born with a punctiliousness that borders on pedantry.  They’re simply not true. But perhaps, if you were to view the city’s inhabitants on any morning, when the army of workers wends its way to their desks, then yes, perhaps the smiles might be missing. As they are in London, or Dublin, or Paris, or any major city where the populace moves in synchronised droves at given times.

I read a series of posts recently from expats who had lived or spent some time in Hungary and apart from a few positives, they were overwhelmingly negative. The Hungarian fear of foreigners. The high levels of corruption. The chronic homelessness. The poor wages. The high costs (relative to other EU countries like Spain and Italy). The unwillingness to help strangers. The language difficulties. And I’m sure that all complaints are valid, not imagined, but very real to those who wrote in. I can still remember bawling my eyes out in frustration walking down the körút having failed dismally to make myself understood and having been dismissed unceremoniously from a shop by a sales assistant who told me that I was too big for their clothes.

But it’s unfair to say that a Budapest experience constitutes the Hungarian reality, just as a Berlin experience isn’t Germany and a Pretoria experience isn’t South Africa.

Bureaucracy is a symptom of city life. Harried people live in fast-paced cities. Those looking in from the outside tend to focus on the centre of policy, on where the politicians meet, on where the cruise ships dock. International reporting is naturally drawn to the headliners. And the result is a pixelated picture of Hungary that however accurate in isolated detail, leaves a lot to be desired as a complete image.

Go outside the city. Visit other cities. Go to Veszprém or to Keszthely or to Vác and see how different they are. Spend time in the villages and market towns and see how inordinately helpful people are. See the lengths they go to, to circumvent the petty bureaucracy because they have the time to see how inane the rules are. Witness how non-English-speaking locals make Herculean efforts to understand and make themselves understood. They, too, have the time. And time makes a difference.

Ten years ago, a tarot card reader in Brighton told me that I’d spend 10 years in Budapest. I didn’t believe them. That’s wasn’t part of the plan I didn’t have. But life has a way of taking over and things simply happen. Hungary happened.

First published in the Budapest Times 4 August 2017

Building fences

You shouldn’t have moved to the countryside if you don’t like chickens! No arguing with that except that I don’t have a problem with chickens. I like my eggs and with chickens come eggs. And they’re curious, funny creatures. Quite engaging. Something had gotten lost in translation.

We took delivery of a lovely hammock during the week (thanks MN) and hung it up under one of the cherry trees right by the neighbour’s wire-mesh fence. It’s rather dilapidated, sagging under the weight of years of holding back said chickens. It’s an eye sore but then it’s the countryside and aesthetics come a distant second to practicality. Having just shelled out for new fencing, I know that replacing it wouldn’t be cheap. Offering to replace it could be viewed as relatively rich newbies flashing their cash so we thought to best avoid any potential conflict and shave a few inches off the garden to put up the fence on our land rather than on the border.

Six posts planted – no mean feat in 37-degree weather. The first siding standing straight. And then all hell breaks loose. The neighbour. Ranting and raving about how she doesn’t steal from us. She doesn’t mind what we do. She doesn’t look. She had a great relationship with the previous owner (who was rarely here) and came and went as she pleased. She had keys to the house and access to the fruit in the garden and the kitchen and lord only knows what else. Things are different now. And over the months, her random wandering through has stopped. She still comes and goes but not nearly as often. It’s a little irritating when I’m in the flow to hear her calling out for me to come outside to chat. She doesn’t get the work thing. That’s something that’s done in an office. Which is fair enough. Her’s is a different world. Ignoring her isn’t really an option as tenacity is her middle name.

I tried to explain about the hammock. About wanting to sit in my garden and enjoy the peace without having to look at her yard. About wanting to read and not look at chickens. I want a fence that I can use as a trellis. I want my quiet place and I don’t need her chickens for company. You shouldn’t have moved to the countryside if you don’t like chickens, she said. So much for excuses.

And then the litany of complaints went on. She needed access to the side of her barn in case something went wrong. There’s a gate between the properties on the other side of her barn that she uses. That’s access enough, I said. The branches of our cherry tree are a danger to her barn, she said. They’re nowhere near your barn, but we’ll cut them down anyway. (I cut my first tree branch today, did I mention that it’s 37 degrees!) The shrubbery in our garden is too close to her barn wall. We can cut that back, I said. No problem. But just in case there was something I was missing, I called a friend, the lovely SJ, to speak with her and check that I was getting the message(s) loud and clear.

The big issue, it turns out, is that she can’t understand why we would want privacy. And, in fairness, privacy something that is hard to come by in a village where everyone knows what you’ve had for breakfast by the time you’ve done the washing up. No different to villages anywhere else. ‘Tis the nature of small communities. I was at a loss to explain it. I’d bombed out with the chickens. The reading didn’t work. So I took off my tshirt and started to undo my bra, throwing my head back and looking up at the sun. Enough said.

Just hope word doesn’t get around the village and the closet naturists start dropping by. That would surely put a dint in my privacy bent.