Slowing down the aging process

Mulberries are a strange fruit. Thanks to Pop goes the weasel, I’ve gotten this far in life thinking they grew on a bush – all around the mulberry bush – but lately, having realised we have three trees in our garden that are producing them at a rapid rate, I now know they grow on a tree.

They look like a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry – the colour of the former and the shape of the latter. Taste-wise, they’re nothing to write home about. But, loathe to waste anything, I did some reseach to see what I could do with them.

Apparently, their health benefits are many: they improve digestion (good), lower cholesterol (very good), help weight loss (great), increase circulation, build bone tissue, lower blood pressure, and boost the immune system. So they have to be good for you, right? They’re also supposed to slow down the aging process – which for me, puts them in a superfood category.

Their stems are buried deep inside the fruit, so even when you’ve taken off the stalk, taking out the rest of the stem is a pain in the proverbial. They stain, horribly. Remember your fountain pen days when you’d get a stain on your fingers from the ink? Now treble that.

Recipes I came across included a mulberry sorbet – which we set out to make. But fifteen minutes into destemming, we lost the will to continue and just put the lot we’d picked into a pot, added some sugar, and boiled the guts out of them. Then we strained and bottled. I fully intended to add some of this syrup to some soda water and have as my daily wake-up tonic. But, man, does that stuff taste vile. So it has to be good for you, right?

They’re easy to pick – just look at them and they drop into the bucket. The ground is littered with them. They’re everywhere. Which means they get on shoes and sandals and get tracked inside, adding a nice purple hue to the floors. Perhaps the most telling, though, is that the birds leave them alone. Obviously they don’t have cholesterol issues or suffer from high blood pressure. Next year perhaps, I might be a little more organised. But this year, one bottle of syrup was as much as I could muster.

I have another cholestoral check in September, and if it has dropped dramatically (or shifted downwards at all) then I’ll be in business. These trees could be my pension.

 

2018 Grateful 31

I’ve never thought of myself as someone who needed affirmation – confirmation that I was doing the right thing or making the right choice. I pretty much do what feels right when it feels right to do it. Nothing more complicated than that. But occasionally, when affirmation and unsolicited approval come my way, I do a damn fine imitation of a peacock in full preen.

I’ve long since realised that I live a blessed life. My wants outnumber my needs and even those are manageable. I have the best of both worlds, with my time split between city and country living and frequent trips to Ireland and abroad. Work comes my way when I need it and life is never dull. I have so much to be grateful for.

But I’m in danger of taking it all for granted. I do things on a daily basis that others have never had the chance to do at all. I have a friend visiting from home home who is crossing firsts off their list of things to do at an alarming rate.

We’ve picked cherries and made jam and cherry syrup. We’ve shelled and candied walnuts. We’ve picked mulberries and having researched their superfood properties, made syrup of those, too. And this was just Day 1. Today, with so many working in the service industry and the manufacturing industry mainly automated, few of us get to see the fruits of our labours. We miss out on the satisfaction that comes with turning a bowl of cherries into a pot of jam. We don’t get to feel that sense of tired satisfaction that comes after spending a day doing… doing stuff.

Day 2, being Sunday, was a rest day that started with us scoring some nice pottery at a flea market outside Keszthely and then finding a birdhouse, a hall table, and a compost bin at another market near Tapolca. Lunch at the Istvándi winery overlooking the Balaton in Káptalantóti, with its cold cherry soup and home-grown mangalica pork was about sustainability. Everything we ate was grown locally. Everything we drank, from the syrup to the wine, was made locally. A stunning environ with great food; a model worth replicating.

From there it was over to Szigliget for a dip in the Balaton waters, before popping into the neighbours for a chat and a catchup and then catching a nightcap in the local presszo. From my viewpoint, looking out, these were normal days for me. For my friend, looking in, they were days with a difference.

Sometimes, looking at our lives from another’s perspective can make us appreciate what we have just a little bit more. And that new perspective is one to be grateful for.

 

Chuffed with myself

One of the many joys of living in the Hungarian countryside is that there’s always somewhere new to explore. Last weekend, with visitors in, we headed over to Hévíz to check out the market. Having heard that it was more upmarket than many in the ‘hood, I had some expectations. Hévíz is an odd place. Home to the largest outdoor thermal lake in the world, allegedly, the smell of sulphur hangs in the air. Floating in the lake doesn’t do it for me and the spa pools inside have been full to capacity the few times I’ve been there – it’s a favourite with Russian, German, and Hungarian tourists. Back in the day, I wonder how many listeners were paid to while away the hours inside.

The town itself has a funny feel to it, too. I can’t quite put my finger on why. It’s as if it’s somewhere it shouldn’t be, and yet I’ve no idea where I’d put it, were I giving Hungary a make-over. Most odd. Anyway, the market, thankfully, was everything I expected and more.

It’s neatly divided (the whole town is neat) into three sections – produce, flea and craft – and the craft section had stuff on offer that I’ve not seen before. If you do the rounds of Christmas and Easter markets in the country, it soon starts looking pretty much the same. But I was pleasantly surprised. Produce is produce – it’s long since ceased to amaze me. We’re very spoiled here – there are so many produce markets offering high-quality fruit and veg that I’m in danger of taking them all for granted. Furniture in the flea end was scarce – which was a shame – but there was plenty of other stuff on offer, presided over by a friendly lot who were quite open to engaging in conversation. Lots of German spoken.

I passed a painting on my way in and stopped when I heard it whisper. None of the others heard anything and none of them seemed that taken with it. On the way out, we passed it again. And the whisper got stronger. But again, I was the only one hearing it. I think the chap said it was by an Austrian artist – but perhaps it was German? Am not sure. But KV definitely isn’t/wasn’t Hungarian. Himself didn’t seem at all impressed and as I already had it hanging on the wall in his office, he needed to be vested in the purchase. He was all for buying it anyway (appeasement), but I took to stook (as I’ve been known to do) and we left emptyhanded. Back in the car, I was still hearing it, and when the practical RL pointed out that it was 10 000ft (about €32 or $26) – money I could afford to lose if it turned out to be a bad fit – himself went back to buy it. Shutting me up was worth the money.

Back home, the lads hung it. And later in the week I found the right coloured cushions to tie it in to the room. And I love it. Yep – when you hear the whisper, when you heed the call, it works out.

Obsessive cherry disorder

I’ve too much respect for those who suffer from OCD to claim that I even have a modicum of it myself. I obsess, that’s true. But it’s not compulsive. It’s out of some weird choice that I blame on the nuns – I blame everything on the nuns. Confronted with pots of ripe cherries, I couldn’t rest until they’d all be disposed of.

The village has had a lot of rain recently – Wednesday was horrendous apparently, with ditches filling in 20 minutes. We escaped because we didn’t arrive down till Thursday evening. And we went straight to the sweet cherry tree, visiting Americans and all. Buckets were doled out, Ladders were put in place. And we picked for 90 minutes straight. Much of the fruit was lovely – firm, ripe, and tasty, Some of it was fuzzy with a weird mold. And more of it again was water-logged and soggy. But we picked the ripe stuff as far as we could reach, discarding the moldy ones, and offering the fruit-laden high branches to the birds and the cherry gods.

I hadn’t expected them to be ready so soon. Or to all come ripe together. Freezer space is minimal right now and left with buckets of the stuff, I was faced with the eternal cherry question – what to do with them all. Last year, I distributed them among by neighbors in Budapest. But these won’t last till I go back. Thankfully, visiting PL had plenty of ideas and pretty soon we got to pitting and canning.

That evening, we canned nearly 7 quarts in a light syrup and are hoping they’ll keep. They’re stored in the back of a press in the coolest room in the house. We didn’t do the whole canning boil as a) they wouldn’t fit in my biggest pot and b) they’re not canning lids. So, we packed them away with a prayer or three. The rest we left overnight. Which wasn’t a great idea. Forget bad apples. There’s nothing like  bad cherry to turn the good’uns around. A shopping trip was needed for more jars and some cheap balsamic vinegar. We were also looking for lumber for a new barn door – but that’s another story.

 

Back at the house, we had friends dropping by on their way from the north shore and time was of the essence. I found an old palinka bottle and filled it with whole cherries – the good ones – before covering them in cheap balsamic vinegar – as the recipe called for. They’re parked for 3 months and then we’ll see. Supposedly it’ll make a great dressing for salads.

The rest was mush – good mush, tasty mush, but mush nonetheless. We needed a recipe for cherry mush. The  plugged-in PL came up with one and while I pitted she cooked up a cherry jam that didn’t quite set the way jam should so we now have a lovely cherry sauce that goes great with vanilla ice-cream. There’s something very satisfying about spending a day in the kitchen processing the fruit from the garden. That sense of satisfaction that comes from surveying the fruit of our labour was quite something.

And while it’ll take a while to get rid of the cherries stains on clothes, nails, walls, and floors, it’s been worth it.

A new addition to the family

The Cold War between us and her-next-door has warmed to tepid. The unintended insult that went with us putting up a fence behind the cherry tree so that I could sit, undisturbed, by the ministrations of our very chatty neighbour has all but been forgotten. When we see each other, we chat. But we don’t go seeking out each other’s company. I value my privacy and my downtime too much to want to have it constantly interrupted, no matter how well-meaning or nice the interrupter is.

She keeps chickens. I’m sure each of them has a name and all of them are well looked after. They roam her garden with abandon and seem to be happy little things. But her garden is brown compared to the luscious green of ours. One particular chicken has taken a shine to Himself, walking up and down the fence on the other side keeping pace with the lawnmower and then peering through to the wire to inspect the finished result, clucking in appreciation if it passes muster.

This same chicken popped over one day and walked through the house, and took a good look around. When she went out onto the terrace, she stopped, laid an egg in the bush at the bottom of the steps, and then went home. A house-warming present with a difference.

Lately though, she’s been popping over more often. She seems to prefer whatever she finds to eat in ours. We have plenty. And we’re happy to share. When her-next-door notices that one of her flock is missing, she lets herself in and takes her truant chicken home. Said chicken has even been lifted and passed back over the fence without a nip or a cluck.

As I was out weeding this morning, she kept me company. We chatted away, her in chicken, me in English with the occasional bit of Hungarian to see if it would get a different response. She’s definitely trilingual. She was doing her thing. I was doing mine. And there was plenty of room for both of us.

Going for old

There’s not much by way of night life in the village. The local pub/café closes at 9pm. And that’s it. No restaurants, no bars, no cinema, no theatre, Nada. Our entertainment of choice is watching movies and TV series projected onto a wall in the front room. A French colleague back in my Chichester days had such a set-up in her house and I loved it. No TV as the focal point in the room. Just one plain white wall as your screen. Magic.

But as I have a tendency to binge and watch for hours, the next most important ingredient in a perfect village winter evening is a couch. A comfortable couch (kanapé). The one we inherited with the house makes a great bed but a crap sofa. So we went shopping.

And wowser – what an eye-opener. People in this part of the world must have massive houses with massive rooms because the sofas we saw, for the most part, were massive with massive price tags. Huge, L-shaped puffy things in plush-toy fabrics. We wanted a three-seater, no longer than 220 cm. How difficult could that be? Of the hundreds we saw and the tens we sat on, we only came close three times.

The first was on a tour of the myriad furniture shops in Keszthely. It was small enough, grey enough, and  affordable enough. They would order it and upholster it in a fabric of my choosing. It would take 8 to 10 weeks to arrive. We came, we sat, we thought, and then at the end of the day, after striking out everywhere else, we came back, ready to order. But on the second sitting, himself decided it was just a tad too small. Not quite deep enough. It didn’t put the lounge in loungeable. Now, on the Belbin team ranking, I’m off the scale when it comes to being a completer-finisher. I want everything done now. I have zero patience. Waiting just ain’t in my nature. I had a mission that Friday – I wanted to buy a couch. End of. And I have a cut-off point when shopping, when the enjoyment needle goes from grand to losing the will to live. I was at tipping point when I heard the backtrack, I think I screamed.

Our ever-friendly assistant had come upstairs, notepad in hand, ready to take the order. I told her he had changed his mind and muttered that perhaps I needed to change my husband as well as the sofa (and no, I didn’t get married – don’t ask – it’s just easier). She looked at him and at me and at the couch, and then told me quite sternly that he looked good – and that I wouldn’t do any better were I to change him. Sometimes humour doesn’t translate. One of us left happy.

It took me a few days to forget the experience and to psych myself up for a trip to Max City, a three-story building in Buda full of designer furniture shops (SF – you’d love it). It was a little depressing seeing so much fab stuff on sale and knowing it was way beyond our means and not just a few yards beyond but marathons beyond. That said, I doubt in any lifetime that I’d be able to justify spending the price of a new car (or a house in an even more remote village) on a sofa that wasn’t at least 100 years old and had been sat on by Hemingway. And although definitely out of our price range generally, we did find a second possible. A blue one that would go very nicely with the faint thread of blue on the fab Kerry Woolen Mills blanket that covers the bed, a bargain I picked up in Killarney last year. Good height. Right length. Super comfortable. Nice legs. Made in Poland. A 12-week order period. Delivery to the Kis-Balaton would be an additional 20%. Definitely at the upper limit of our price bracket but my back was screaming for a new sofa. The only drawback was that you couldn’t take off the cushions or turn them over. So were a glass of red wine to spill, we’d be screwed.  Oh they could sell me an all-purpose magic fabric cleaner but really??? And when did I get so practical?

We went down a notch or three and popped into Kika, another massive department store with all sorts of stuff you never knew you needed. Again, more massive sofas, and of all of them, just one possible. Half the price of the blue sofa, but not nearly as well made, It didn’t have that sturdy feeling. But it was available on the spot, no waiting period. And the colour would work with the grey in the fab Kerry Woolen Mills blanket that covers the bed (I love that blanket). And the cushion covers unzipped for easy cleaning. We were almost there – but delivery would cost an additional whopping 70%. I’d reached my tipping point. I was losing the will to live.

Thoroughly disillusioned with the new-sofa offer, and not prepared to wait 12 weeks for something I might ruin on the first sitting, I reverted to type. I much prefer old stuff. It’s better made, for one thing. It’s stood the test of time already and hasn’t given up the ghost. The day we were in Keszthely, we’d stopped at one of those Holland Bútor shops – shops selling old furniture imported from Holland alongside Hungarian antiques. There are quite a few in the county so business must be good. While we were there, we’d seen a couple of old brown leather sofas that were very comfortable. But at that stage, I wasn’t thinking brown or leather or old. But there comes a point in life when comfort trumps style, especially when your back is screaming for mercy and there’s a whole six seasons left in the series you’re watching.

So we went back again, for another sit, and another look this week. Of course it was nothing like I’d remembered. I’d convinced myself it was a low-backed brown-buttoned Chesterfield … but it wasn’t. But it is extremely well made. Solid. In good nick. Affordable. And it was available. Any spills could be easily washed off. And it would age well with time. My Hungarian got us through it. We bought. Yer man delivered the next day, for free. And my back is happy. Yep, going for old is where it’s at.

The stories behind the cakes

On a recon of Zala county a couple of years back, when I was exploring thoughts of life in a Hungarian village, the instigators of this grand plan took me to visit Florridora’s Pantry, an English Tea Room run by Mancunian Ken Jones and Brighton-born Neil Stevens over in Zalaszántó. Fast forward a couple of years and the boys have moved to my village, Balatonmagyaród. The grand opening is scheduled for early March but I got a sneak preview of the new gaff last week. And it didn’t disappoint.

The lads had prepared a sampler tray of old stalwarts. It being a Friday in Lent though, all I could do was sit and listen to the stories while himself tasted them to make sure they were all up to scratch.

Going clockwise from 9pm, first up was Rocky Road. This is a favourite of mine (it was my ice-cream of choice during my  B&J wars with the inimitable Sam Fowler while living in Longview, Washington). The recipe is about 150 years old and originates from the gold mines of Australia. It would take weeks for supplies to reach the camp and most arrived in pieces. But the broken bits were bunged together and aptly name Rocky Road, as a nod to the road hard travelled.

Next, were two versions of the famous Hungarian Kossuth cake. Some say that the Florridora menu is one of the few menus (if not the only one) on which this features in Hungary today. After the 1848 Hungarian uprising, Kossuth Lajos was invited to to America. He made the trip in 1851, primarily to tell the folks over there about what was going on in Hungary and to raise some money for another attempt at a revolt. And while the locals didn’t quite stump up (he raised a paltry $25, equivalent to about $740 in today’s money), he got a name for himself as a champion of freedom. An enterprising fan, a baker in Baltimore, decided to honour him in cake, filling a sponge cupcake with sweet whipped cream and topping it off with a strawberry or a chocolate sauce. Bring it back, I say. Bring it back.

At about 1pm in my photo, there’s the Brighton sandwich, a nod to Stevens’s home town. The origins of shortbread are a focal point of discussion for some – Mary Queen of Scots is mentioned, as is Elizabeth I. And, something I didn’t know – shortbread comes in tails, rounds, and fingers. This sandwich is filled with an apricot-and-almond jam.

It’s followed by a Bread-and-Butter-Pudding cake, a granny cake, so-called because grannies were quite clever when it came to using up stale bread. Jones’s great-grandmother was in service in Gainsborough Hall  and this particular recipe has survived the generations. It has the texture of a tea-loaf with a chocolate and orange flavour.

The Grasmere Gingerbread dates back to 1854, when Sarah Nelson started making it in her Lake-District home.  Nelson sold it to the villagers from a table-top on a tree stump in her garden. A local resident, a chap by the name of William Wordsworth, him with a thing for daffodils, endorsed the cake and word quickly spread. Centuries later, it’s still going strong. Nelson’s story is a fascinating one and a visit to the Lake District is now on my bucket list. [When I asked him to rate the cakes, himself voted this his favourite.]

Centre-plate is the Manchester Tart. This coconut-topped biscuit cake filled with raspberry jam originates from a time when coconut cakes were only found in large port cities like Manchester and London. The delicacy didn’t survive inland road trips. The recipe dates to Mrs Beaton and the 1850s. The pasty case is medieval, and would have originally been filled with meats rather than jams. The tart was Jones’s dad’s signature dish when he was in the Navy in WWII. Some go all out and add sliced bananas, but the lads opted for a filling of cherry-and-clove jam.

The traditional cream tea fare of scones with jam, butter, and cream, wasn’t on the menu that day. Had it been, I might have stretched my Lenten fast and had it was one of my collations.

Florridora’s Pantry will open at weekends and on Public Holidays from March, with extended opening in the summer tourist season. I imagine the village will be getting a lot busier. Cyclists doing the Kis-Balaton circle from Zalakaros will now have somewhere to wet their whistles. So book ahead. Just to be sure.

Petőfi utca 237
8753 Balatonmagyaród, Zala, Hungary

And if you fancy some Kossuth cake on 15 March, here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

100g butter
200g sugar
2 eggs
225g pastry flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
100ml milk
½ tsp vanilla

Cream butter and sugar well. Add beaten eggs. Fold in flour, baking powder, and salt (sifted together), alternately with the milk. Add the vanilla. Bake at 180° in muffin pans for 16-18 minutes. When done, cool, cut almost in half, fill with sweetened whipped cream and ice top of cakes.

Chocolate Icing

50g chocolate squares
50g butter
225g powdered sugar
2 egg yolks
Salt
Vanilla

Melt chocolate and butter, add sugar and a little hot water until just soft enough to spread. Beat in egg yolks. Add a pinch of salt and a little vanilla. Makes a soft icing to spread on top of the cakes.

Strawberry Icing

10 ripe strawberries
½ tsp lemon juice
225g powdered sugar

Mash berries with a fork, add lemon juice. Gradually add sugar until stiff enough to spread, yet soft enough to run over top of cream-filled cakes. Ready to serve.

 

 

2018 Grateful 46

Up until last Saturday, my knowledge of pigeons was minimal: birds that gather in main squares in old cities to wow the tourists; birds that poop on statues; birds that some people call sky rats. From my banking days in Dublin, I knew of homing pigeons. Some of the customers raced pigeons and Monday mornings always came with stories of how they’d done. I didn’t know that many people of all ages have an irrational fear of pigeons (peristerophobia) or that the term New Jersey pigeon meant anything other than a pigeon from New Jersey (sometimes you can know too much).

So, what happened last Saturday?

The village ain’t exactly hoppin’ when it comes to scheduled entertainment. That’s why I like it. We’re pretty much left to our own devices. But occasionally, when something is put on, everyone turns out. Last weekend it was the annual pigeon, birds, and small animal exhibition. Bird enthusiasts and pet-owners from the nearby villages brought their birds and beasts and set them up in the village hall where, for the princely sum of 500 ft ($1.80/€1.60), you could ooh and aah to your heart’s content. For us, it was a language lesson to see if we’d recognise the names in English. Money well spent.

The first room was full of colourful canaries and parakeets and all sorts. Oranges and blues and pinks and greens all chirped away adding up to a nearly deafening roar. Maya Angelou’s The the Caged Bird Sings came to mind. A long-departed friend of mine in London, the inimitable Sheila José (RIP), kept a parrot, Napoleon. I liked him. He was big and he talked. The little ‘uns didn’t do much for me.

The second room was quieter, but ooh the smell, the smell. Watching an episode of Doc Martin recently, I’d first heard of Pigeon lung – a disease you get from inhaling pigeon poop. I wasn’t about to hang around, but then it got interesting – and I realised that pigeons have been getting a bum rap. They’re gorgeous.

First up was the Páva (the peacock pigeon). Cuter than all git out. If it wasn’t for the neighbour’s cats, these would look lovely picking their way through my mole hills.

Next up was the Fodros galamb (or frillback pigeon). You know the effect you get when you take a potato peeler and peel some hard chocolate? Well, think of this on legs – with a head and a tail and a beak and two beady eyes. Fabulous.

My favourite had to be the magyar óriás galamb (the Hungarian giant pigeon – or the Red Capuchin). This is the Queen of pigeons apparently. She has haughtiness down to a fine art. Think little old ladies with spindly legs in high heels wrapped in mink coats.

The Debreceni Pergő (the Debrecen vulture pigeon) is a classic. I tried to see the vulture in him but failed. And, if you’re curious as to why the vulture pigeon from Debrecen has the city name attached to it, there’s also a vulture pigeon from Birmingham. Who knew. There were lots more, too many to take pictures of (did I mention the smell!) but these were the interesting ones. 

You know those ceramic figures that some people collect, the ones that look like fat chickens? Well, they could be pigeons. I think this is a French Mondain – one step up the evolutionary ladder from the Rock pigeon. I could be wrong. I was so sure it was a fat chicken that I didn’t pay any attention to the name tag.

 

I’d have gone for fat chickens for these, too, except for the fancy slippers. Now I’m not so sure.

These are definitely roosters, though – I heard them crow.

A little reading tells me that pigeons go as far back as 3000 BC. Apparently archaeologists in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) found some images of the birds dating back that far. I didn’t know that the words pigeon and dove are used interchangeably: pigeon is used for the bigger birds and dove for the smaller but they’re all part of the same family. And as for pigeon poop, far from the irritant it is today, it used to be very valuable stuff, a prized fertiliser and the only source of saltpetre – the key ingredient in gun powder.

There are famous pigeons, war heroes like Cher Ami, who saved the lives of 200 American soldiers in WWI. Stories abound of pigeons like Ariel in New Zealand who carried a record-making 5 sheets of paper over a 90-minute trip back in the 1880s between Great Barrier Island and Auckland. Or a pigeon called Velocity who holds the record for that run (50 minutes) averaging 125 kmph (only 40% slower than a modern aircraft!). That’s some going.

It’s a fascinating world, the pigeon world. They’re private, they co-parent, and they mate for life. And they’re supposedly very intelligent.

Laboratory PIGEONS learned to recognize each of the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet. It seemed odd to the researchers that the birds made the same kinds of initial mistakes as elementary school students.

I had a lovely couple of weeks in the village – even if some of that time was spent without heat or hot water. And yet again I’m grateful, ever-so grateful, for my retreat, and for the curiosities of village life. It’s amazing what you can learn when you have no distractions.

2018 Grateful 47

Ah, no! Seriously, Tibor? Monday? Say it isn’t so! That was me on Thursday morning. We’d arrived down to the village the previous evening to find the house freezing. It was 5 degrees in the kitchen and there wasn’t a gux out of the boiler. Thinking we might have missed a simple reset button or perhaps needed to do something embarrassingly obvious to everyone but us, we called our go-to guy and then the boiler lad. Neither could help.

Tibor came to check it out on Thursday and said it was beyond resuscitation. A new one was called for. And it wouldn’t arrive till Monday. So four more days of being damn cold, with the lovelies due to visit on Friday for the weekend and no heat, no hot water.

Himself was called back to Budapest and I could have gone, too. But it says a lot about village life when I’d rather be here, freezing my ass off and nipping over to the neighbours for a hot shower, than in the flat in Budapest with every modern convenience at my fingertips. I spent Thursday evening on the couch with a hot water bottle and a blanket watching Season 2 of Doc Martin. Szilvi, she who gives a great home massage, arrived on Friday lunchtime as arranged and we managed to have a brief conversation. A bojler elromlott. Nincs melegünk. Nincs meleg víz. At least my Hungarian vocabulary is expanding; the silver lining in this particular cloud.

Undeterred, the lovelies came anyway on Friday evening after work, armed with heaters and thermals and the makings of some whiskey cocktails for that inner warmth. The kitchen got up as high as 13.4 degrees at one stage. We’d borrowed a noisy industrial heater and had the oven going full blast. For a brief moment, I was warm. Friday night, wrapped in winter woollies, as we sat around the kitchen table making the best of it, I gave silent thanks for the friends I’ve been blessed with. No complaints. No moans. Not one.

The next day, we headed over to Dobrovnik in Slovenia, for a walk in the healing forest. We had the place practically to ourselves. There was snow on the ground and a bite in the air. It was beautiful. I spent time at my four stations and came away feeling tired but content.

Healing forest Dobrovik Slovenia

A stop-off at Vadászcsárda (Hunters’ Inn) in Zalacsány on the way home topped off a lovely day and got me ready for Season 3 of Doc Martin.

Tomorrow, the heating will be fixed. My creature comforts will be restored. And another glorious week will begin. This day last week I was heading to the airport to catch a flight to Malta. Seven days later, I’m back from mass, hatted and scarfed and wrapped in a blanket, waiting for a chap to come quote for a télikert, a winter garden (the Hungarian term for a conservatory). If there’s any money left over after buying the new boiler, it might just be my next project.

 

 

Reality postponed

Reality dawned this evening at about 5.54pm, village time. The delightful M family had left after their long-promised Irish Sunday dinner of roast lamb and all the trimmings. (And yes, I know today is Tuesday, but this is village time.) The lovely MI had been deposited at the train station to wend her way back to Budapest. The dishes were done and it was just that little bit too early to sit and watch the Young Montalbano. So, I logged on to check my emails to find that the rest of the world had obviously gone back to work today. Two emails in to the multitude begging for attention, my mind started to wander.

Some of the lamb-induced conversation centred on how smart the world is getting. We shared a concern that we are slowly relinquishing control of our lives to technology. Driverless cars are all well and good until a hacker breaks the access code, engages central locking and takes you to never-ever land. Smart homes are great in theory but what if the house gets smarter than you and locks you in, puts you on a diet of marmite and Dr Pepper, and forces you to listen to U2? And as for the smartwatches that let us answer our phone and check our emails? Do we really want to be that available, to see the end to ‘Oops, missed your call. Left my phone in the other room’ and the litany of similar excuses (?) trotted out when we simply don’t want to talk.

I started thinking of skills that could be endangered – needlepoint, handwriting, doing sums in your head, remembering just about anything – and as I internalised that hollow feeling that comes with needless worrying – like I can do anything to change the way the world is going – I went on FB to see where it was headed. JG had shared a post entitled Go deeper, not wider.

In it, the author imagines:

…. a tradition [they’d] like to invent. After you’re established in your career, and you have some neat stuff in your house, you take a whole year in which you don’t start anything new or acquire any new possessions you don’t need. No new hobbies, equipment, games, or books are allowed during this year. Instead, you have to find the value in what you already own or what you’ve already started. You improve skills rather than learning new ones. You consume media you’ve already stockpiled instead of acquiring more.You read your unread books, or even reread your favorites. You pick up the guitar again and get better at it, instead of taking up the harmonica. […] The guiding philosophy is “Go deeper, not wider.” Drill down for value and enrichment instead of fanning out. You turn to the wealth of options already in your house, literally and figuratively. We could call it a “Depth Year” or a “Year of Deepening” or something.

I’ll admit to being intrigued. A whole year without starting anything new or acquiring any new possessions? I quite fancy the idea, but maybe not this year – there’s a kitchen to be renovated and a terrace to be glassed in and I so want a sewing machine to run up some curtains and some cushion covers. But I might get a start on the hobbies/games/books…

As I still couldn’t face my emails I decided to postpone my return to work until tomorrow. And before rejoining the Young Montalbano (my NY watch), I read with interest what Peg Ludtke had to say about NY resolutions:

I could approach each day like I do making soup:  aware of the possibilities, yet open to innovation and compromise.

That sounds like one I could borrow…