Posts

Swan in the road

Trash talk

We went looking for holly the other day, down by the lake. It was glorious – one of those magical brisk winter days when the sun plays hide-and-seek and the fields are half-planted, half-ploughed. The wind couldn’t make up its mind what it wanted to do and for a few seconds, we were caught in a leaf storm as it whipped through the trees trying to tear the last of their leaves from them. They fought a good fight.

leaf storm

The colours were of the stuff no artist could capture. In one spot – a narrow neck of water between the fields and the island – Kányavári sziget – the water was trying to freeze. It was humbling to see the broad rough water in the distance to the right, the little ripples by the shore and then in between, the still, glass-like effect of ice in the making. Such is the multifaceted power of nature.

Kis-Balaton icing over

Kis-Balaton icing over

It’s recycling week in the village. On Thursday, we can leave out our paper and plastic for pick-up along with the regular rubbish, so I grabbed a yellow bag (plastics) just in case we happened across any litter on our walk and we set off. We decided to drive to Hídveg and then walk the bike path back to the island. But I missed the turn. And I’m glad I did, because there, in the middle of the road on the bridge, as brazen as you like, was a massive swan. He was busy cleaning his feathers, standing on one leg, neck turned under, oblivious to us. I crawled closer waiting for him to look up. And he did. And then he went back to what he was doing. I beeped the horn. He looked at me again, this time in disdain as if to say, get real, I’m busy. I drove slowly around him to the right and he did move, ever so slightly to the other side of the road. I turned around to come back and faced him again. But this time, he wasn’t going anywhere. No way. Not moving. It was a first for me. I’ve seen elephants, cows, chickens, monkeys, dogs, horses, donkeys, pheasants, deer, moose, pigs – you name it – but this was my first road-hogging swan.

Swan in the road

Photo credit: Steve Jacobs

On our walk, we found the usual flurry of litter – plastic water bottles, beer cans, sandwich wrappers, and the remnants of black plastic bags. I had to concentrate on my breathing to avoid getting really pissed off at the people who’d so carelessly trashed the place. I’m really making an effort to reduce the stress in my life and to stay the anxiety, but it’s a struggle when inconsiderate, thoughtless people, make it so difficult. Seriously! I was blaming the cyclists who use this path until himself (a cyclist) reasoned that they’d be unlikely to carry 1.5L bottles. Okay, so not the MAMILs but the tourist pedallers then. But it doesn’t much matter who did it, it simply shouldn’t be done.

A new addition to the litany of litter is the wet wipe. Duh, people, these don’t disintegrate in the rain. They’re not biodegradable. You shouldn’t even flush the ones that say they’re flushable. Remember back when plastic bags were free and the world’s collective environmental consciousness was comatose? You’d see bags hanging on trees like ornaments. So plentiful were there that at times it looked as if they were a fruit. Well, now that we’re doing better with our bags, the latest foliage is the wet wipe. Don’t worry – I had my litter gloves on. We almost filled our large plastic bag – I stopped counting at 20 bottles and as many wet wipes and am still wondering where the second sandal is and why I found just one sleeve of a faux-leather jacket. At one stage I wondered what number I’d call if I found a body.

Photo credit: Steve Jacobs

As we walked towards the lake, I saw this big piece of pipe, just sitting there. That nearly set me off completely. Whatever about thoughtlessly casting aside a water bottle or answering nature’s call and leaving the wet wipe behind, carrying stuff into the woods to deliberately dispose of it – that’s a hanging offence in my world. But himself, ever rational, pointed to the end of the pipe that was buried underground and suggested it was part of some irrigation system using water from the lake. Alright, I suppose, but it looked ugly and out of place and upset my sense of being.

If you’re out and about walking round the Kis-Balaton, or anywhere really, think about taking a rubbish bag with you. Picking up after others isn’t anyone’s idea of fun, but don’t think of them, think the critters who could do without eating or getting ensnared in our waste.

Years ago, Mother Patrick, a nun who taught us in primary school, asked us how long it would take to sweep the streets of Paris. We guessed days, weeks, months even. She said 10 minutes – 10 minutes if everyone swept outside their own doorstep. The countryside doesn’t have doorsteps. It has visitors. Be a sweeper. Make a difference.

2018 Grateful 6 | Making the Move

Things have been a little scatty lately. What with my recent memory blank and other odd stuff going on, it felt like the puppet master was tugging a little too heavily on the strings. I was a tad discombobulated. Something was off and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Back in Budapest for a few days after a quick trip home to see the folks, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. They congratulated me on making the move.

What move, I asked?

To the village, they said. I hear you’re now living down there during the week and just coming to Budapest at the weekend.

That stopped me in my tracks. I’d no idea that I’d moved.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I had … mentally. I’d shifted from living in the city to living in the village. Budapest is somewhere I have a flat I can use when I’m working in the city or travelling in or out of it. The village is home. And with that admission, the discombobulation recombobulated and life suddenly felt okay again.

It’s 1 degree outside. It’s snowing. And we’re just back from a rather silly venture. I had the bright idea to go check on the walnut tree we spotted last year on the track that runs along the lake at the end of our property. Walnuts are in short supply. It’s been a bad season. But I figured we might strike it lucky. What I didn’t figure on is that they’d be impossible to find, buried as they no doubt are beneath layers of fallen leaves. Sometimes I seriously doubt my intelligence.  But it didn’t matter. We were out. It was bracingly cold. And it was snowing.

We came across this lovely red-stemmed bush with bunches of black berries. The red really stood out against the browns and golds of the dried leaves around it. And the grape-like clusters of berries looked good enough to eat. And I would have, had himself not pulled me up with a word of caution.

They’re low. There are deer tracks. And the deer haven’t eaten them. You sure you want to try?

I couldn’t fault the man’s logic. So I checked WebMD.

Pokeweed, aka American Nightshade. The root is supposedly used in medicines to treat a range of ailments from acne to ringworm, from achy muscles to syphilis. It’s used in food and wine a colouring agent and in manufacturing to make ink and dye. I was already seeing the possibilities. But then I read on, on the same site:

All parts of the pokeweed plant, especially the root, are poisonous. Severe poisoning has been reported from drinking tea brewed from pokeweed root and pokeweed leaves. Poisoning also has resulted from drinking pokeberry wine and eating pokeberry pancakes. Eating just 10 berries can be toxic to an adult.

There went my pokeweed jam idea. Unless I wanted to cause vomiting, cramps, diarrhoea, incontinence, and more along that vein. [Could there be a market in that?] Apparently, even touching it can cause harm. Getting mixed messages and not willing to believe that this luscious crop of berries couldn’t end up in a jamjar, I checked Poison.org. Yep, pokeberries are definitely not good for you.

Although disappointed I couldn’t put them to good use, I was pleased that I’d make a discovery. That I’d learned something new. As the snow blew across the fields, parallel to the ground, I felt the crispness of winter. I was cold. I was wet. And I was happy. This week, I’m grateful to be home.

 

 

 

2018 Grateful 15 | Meditations while oiling the garden furniture

I’ve gone a whole week without doing myself damage – am impressed with myself. I woke up knackered this morning but I think it was because I was dreaming about chasing the recycling truck down the street. Exhausting stuff.  Temperatures dropped 13 degrees overnight from a lovely summer 27 yesterday to a cool autumnal 14 today. I’m not complaining. This is my time of year. I love autumn. That cool crisp air, the geese-laden skies, the frog chorus from the lake. All good stuff.

It marks a setting in, a holing up, a getting ready to batten down the hatches and hibernate. Mind you, I’ve never let the seasons affect my hibernation but still, autumn is when it comes into its own.

I spent a gruelling few hours each day this week readying the garden furniture for its winter holiday. They’ll all be packed away in the barn, newly oiled, for a well-deserved rest as I plan to get a lot of use out of them next year. Painting linseed oil on garden chairs is about as close as I can come to meditation. The mechanics of it all are mesmerising.

On Chair 1, it struck me that this week marked the two-year anniversary of picking up the keys for the place in the village. Two years. It seems like a lifetime ago, as if we’ve always been here. The general consensus was that we’d use it the odd weekend. No one was more surprised than I at how quickly I took to country living. I have to be pried out of the place. Reflections on life in the village set me up to tackle the table and the lounge chair. I was making great progress.

There’s something deeply satisfying about seeing a work in progress completed. As each rung of the chairs darkened I came one step closer to the end. A little like life really. I’ve been through the 18th birthdays, the 21sts, the engagements, the weddings, the housewarmings, the christenings, the noughty birthdays, the big wedding anniversaries.  Now I’m at the edge of the funeral era where funerals are the most common meeting occasions. I started on Instagram a few weeks back for one of my other blogs – www.dyingtogetin (be sure to sign up for email notifications of new posts) – and posted an image of a gravestone from a cemetery in Geneva. It put my school French to the test but what a lovely sentiment. I think it was on Chair 2 that I started wondering about my own epitaph, what it would say about me – and it wasn’t until Chair 3 that I remembered I’m going to be cremated.

The chicken from next door kept me company for Chair 4. She’s looking rather motley, a tad dishevelled, somewhat defeathered. I think the other chickens are picking on her and perhaps that’s why she spends so much time at ours. Or perhaps they’re picking on her because she spends so much time at ours. Or perhaps she’s just moulting. Like everything else, there are at least three sides to any story – mine, yours, and theirs. I’ve had to cut back on my tweet reading because I’m finding it hard to decipher the actual story these days for all the sides they have.

By the time I got to the final chair, my back was killing me. I was cranky and irritable, and beginning to feel like my nose was lined with linseed oil. I swore I wasn’t doing this again next year. I’d have to figure something out. I’m just not as supple as I used to be, not that I was ever supple at all, but I’ve been looser than I am now. And then I remembered that this time next week, I’ll be three days into a month of daily Thai massages. That’ll put the s back into my upple. And do my back the world of good. And get rid of the knots and the stress and the pains.

Ah yes, chairs oiled and ready for winter. Me, soon to be oiled and ready for pampering. What’s not to be grateful for.

 

PS – I’ll be moving over to www.anyexcusetotravel.com for the forseeable future so if you want to continue reading, be sure to sign up for email notifications of new posts.

2018 Grateful 20 | Pears

I’ve always thought the word ‘bounty’ to be a peculiarly Protestant word. Not specifically Luthern, or Methodist, or Church of England, just generally Protestant. I associate it with harvesting and harvest time, a season much celebrated by the Church of Ireland at home. The bounty of Mother Nature, that whereby we eat and live. I see farmers markets, the like of which I visited recently in Warsaw, as a drip feed towards a collective bounty. Farmers balance those who don’t have gardens and the wherewithal to grow their own food. There’s a sharing. Yes, of course, money changes hands, but there’s still a sharing.

There’s no drip feed in our garden – there’s no metering of her measure. It all comes together. At once. Mother Nature has had a right old time in our garden this year. The plums were few and far between, the peaches even scarcer. The cherries were half of what we got last year and the apples? Well, we’re still waiting. But the pears. Man, the pears. This year they’ve gone mad.

At a conservative estimated, we have at least 200kg of pears to be processed or given away. The problem is that when everyone else in the village is in the same boat, no one wants to take anything. Just yesterday, himself proudly returned an egg box to her next door with 10 of his own tomatoes in it (yes, eggs in Hungary come in batches of 6, 10, 20, or 30). She’d helped him plant them. The offering seemed a fitting tribute. But then she gave him 20 of her own. To compare.

Yesterday, I picked and peeled and cored and chopped. I froze pears in slices. I froze grated pears for cakes. I made pear chutney. I poached six large jars worth of the yellow buggers. I even made pear and walnut bread. And that took care of 50kg. The remaining 150kg are destined for the pálinka still. An experiment. His domain.

Come winter, I’ll be glad I did this. I like the idea of subsistence living. I’m all for reducing my dependency on mass-produced foods. I’m a supporter of shopping local. I’m into second-hand and vintage. I prefer old and recycled to shiny and new. I’m all in favour of making life simple.

Village life

Yet rather than taking all this for granted, I’m increasingly conscious of how lucky I am. That there are so many people going without in the world drives me to make sure that nothing we have is wasted. I find myself saving the smallest portions of leftovers, reluctant to throw anything away. The ‘new’ gate in the back garden was cobbled together from scraps of wood. The ‘new’ door in the barn was refashioned from one that came out of the house. I have a vague notion that an old shower frame might well end up as a grape arbour.

And while we’re harvesting and processing, the starlings are pigging out on the apple tree next door on the other side. We rarely see those neighbours. They’re never there. And if they are, they’re there when we’re not. Their fruit goes uncollected, left to be pecked, to fall to the ground and rot. For the last couple of days, a murmation of starlings has descended on the tree chattering at full volume, doing their damnedest to pick it clean. I’m in awe of such blatant gluttony. But they have to eat, too, right? Why, I wonder, have I been conditioned to see this as waste?

Her next door is engaged in a running battle with the birds. She regularly goes out into her fields banging an old tin can, causing a terrible racket, making the birds hightail it to the quieter pastures. But then her livelihood is at stake. She depends on her crops to live; what she reaps this summer she’ll need to get herself through till the next. She sees the starlings are her enemy. I see them as noisy friends, as entertainment. But for us, the harvest is not nearly so serious. It more a matter of making good with what we get. And for those on the other side, the fruit clearly doesn’t matter to them at all. It takes all sorts, each of our perspectives governed by our needs.

The farmer up the road at home brings my mother fresh eggs. In return, she bakes him an apple tart or some brown bread. Her next door occasionally drops in some fresh eggs and in return she gets a loaf of whatever bread I’ve made – this week it’s pear and walnut – which she has just begun to grudgingly accept. Yes, my mother will never be dead as long as I’m alive. There’s a happy co-existence. Last year’s fence war has been all but forgotten. The world outside continues to run amuck. Egos prevail. But in the village, there’s a balance, with give and take and all sorts living side by side and making do. And for that, I’m grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Grateful 24 | A baby came to mass

A strange thing happened this morning. After a night laden with thunder, lightning, and teeming rain, the village had a clean feel to it as we walked to mass. The thunder was still making itself heard and rain threatened but it was warm enough. The congregation was smaller than usual, probably to due with the weather. We slotted into our usual seat and then, just as mass started, a young couple with a baby arrived and sat in the seat in front us.

I’ve seen them around before and think I’ve sussed out the connection – his mother (I think) lives locally, and they visit on occasion.

We had a priest this week. I’ve given up trying to figure out the roster between our village and the neighbouring ones. Most weeks we have a deacon, who although has only half the mass to say (the Eucharist and such having been prepared earlier) still takes longer than the regular padre. Give a man a pulpit and you know not what you’ll get.

The usual pattern of little old dears surrounded us. Normally, these women wouldn’t crack a smile if  Ági Néni went up to Communion with the hem of her skirt accidentally tucked into her knickers. They’re serious about their prayer and come to mass armed with prayerbooks so heavy they all walk with a slight tilt – and they use them. But when the baby arrived, everything changed. The priest was no longer their sole focus. God was forgotten. Their faces broke into broad smiles as they sneaked surreptitious glances at the child, who was tidily seated in his buggy in the aisle.

All was going well until he got bored. And he started making noises. The parents smiled indulgently at him. I had to hold my blood pressure in check. It’s a pet peeve – why people allow their kids to make a ruckus in Church but wouldn’t think of allowing them to do so at, say, a theatre. I can’t believe I’m saying this… but when I was young (yes, I’m cringing!) and too young to go to mass quietly, mam went to one mass while Boss minded us; he went to another later or earlier. There’s a mass on the hour in any of five neighbouring villages so there’s plenty of choice. I found myself asking why… why didn’t one of them go to 9 am in the next village over? They could bring the baby down after mass to meet the nénis.

He wanted out of his buggy and mam obliged. The priest was showing mild evidence of irritation (I’m with you, Father) as he tried to compete, volume wise. The little old dears were bending over backwards in all sorts of contortions trying to make the kid smile. It was at once annoying and amusing. The mass was lost on them. Their prayers forgotten. Everyone was focused on the kid.

When it came to the offering the sign of peace, the Santa Claus lookalike who sits opposite traversed the aisle to shake hands with the toddler, a big smile on his face. This ageing church had been imbued with new life. And as everyone filed out after the final blessing, there was a noticeable spring to the collective step.

I’ve lived a life without issue. That particular door never opened and for that I’m grateful. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for anyone other than myself in this life. But every now and then I get a glimpse at what I might have missed. And I smile. I smile a smile tinged with ‘if only’ but laced in gratitude. Yep – even I was making faces at the toddler in the end.

2018 Grateful 28

So, if I were a kid, watching Billy Elliott might make me gay? Really? I’m mortified that this is making headline news outside of Hungary. The Irish Times led with:

Billy Elliot shows scrapped amid ‘gay propaganda’ row: Opera chief in Hungary denies pressure from nationalist government promoted the move

The Guardian ran with:

Billiot Elliot musical axes dates in Hungary amid claims it could ‘turn children gay’

The Washington Post went with:

Billy Elliott shows canceled in Hungary amid cries that musical is ‘gay propaganda’

The mind boggles, particularly when I heard that the one gay character in the original show wasn’t gay in the Hungarian version. Go figure. But just when I thought I’d seen the capital L on Ludicrous illuminated, I heard another story that has left me reeling.

Walking on the island today, we got chatting to a fisherman who said he had caught some fish. We asked to have a look as I’ve never seen any of the many fishermen who regularly line the lakeshore catch anything other than the occasional palinka fugue. And sure enough, he had some live ones swimming around in his net. Nice ones. But he had a problem. The goverment has apparently decreed that the Busa and the Kárász  (both types of carp) are not truly Hungarian fish and therefore have to be taken from Hungarian waters. Forcibly removed. If you catch them, you cannot put them back, no matter how small they are. You have to keep them. And, what’s more, you have to kill them where you catch them. You can’t take them home live and then kill them and cook them fresh. Nope. It’s death before departure.  This was a problem for me man, as he lives some 150 km from the village and figured that his fish would be well souped by the time he got them home.

Kárász (Crucian)

Now, in the grand scheme of things, I’d have thought that there were other, more pressing matters, for the government to focus on. Like the increasing rate of emigration. Or the state of the hospitals. Or the abortion rate – I heard tell this week of one hospital with 18 beds in the gynaecology ward performing an average of 10 abortions a day. But no; it would seem that fish are in focus. Foreign fish.

Of course, there’s always a chance that this chap was a tad disillusioned or perhaps read the law wrong or maybe even had been in the sun too long, but he seemed convinced and was very convincing. And what’s more, he seemed to find the whole thing as ludicrous as I did. We shared a contemplative moment as we considered the madness of it all, then shook hands and parted ways.

In a week that’s seen no shortage of visitors and entertainment, I’m grateful for interactions such as these, conversations that keep me wondering at where the world is headed. There’s nothing like a bit of suspense to liven up a Saturday.

 

 

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.

 

 

The masquerade of charity

I was in Serbia earlier this week and while there, had a few minutes to browse the web. I belong to a host of online sites selling old and used furniture. I can lose myself for hours in these virtual shops. One (wo)man’s trash is indeed another (wo)man’s treasure. I found a chest of drawers that I liked. It had some nice carving on the front and although it looked as if it had seen better days, it seemed in reasonable nick, from the photos, at least.

I engaged in a conversation with the owner using my friend Google Translate. It transpired that it was too big to fit in the boot of our car (I’d learned my lesson from a previous online purchase, and now check with himself before committing myself to anything). But yer man said he’d deliver. I didn’t argue the price, even if he said it was a guide price. I’m useless at that sort of stuff and he said he really needed the money as he has two small kids and no money to buy clothes or toys for them. I offered to pay for his petrol to drop them over but forgot to  mention this to ‘he who is not blessed by divine inspiration’, with the result that when yer man arrived and dropped it off, he was given just the asking price. I was in Serbia, remember?

That said, the piece is, by all accounts, a little worse for wear. At one stage it must have had a top half that is now missing; the holes into which that piece fit are a tad obvious. I’ve yet to see it, but I’m already thinking that it has the makings of yet another project (my way of dressing up buyer’s remorse). It joins a chair waiting to be reupholstered, two other chairs waiting to be painted, and two wardrobes waiting for inspiration. But I live in hope.

We’ve been back and forth since about how to pay the money promised and the conversation is getting interesting. We’re back to clothes, shoes, and toys for the two kids. What’s even more interesting though, is my reaction to it all.

I had the initial – Oh, no, please, not a con artist! – which morphed into ‘Oh, no, please, I’ve enough to be worrying about with my own bills’ – which then capsized into the seas of Catholic guilt and surfaced as ‘FFS, have a heart.’

I ran quickly through the seven works of mercy:

Feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, comforting the imprisoned, visiting the sick, and burying the dead.

and while me buying clothes and toys for this chap’s kids wouldn’t tick any specific boxes, the mercy could be loosely implied.

Earlier today, I had reason to revisit  the five stages of grief:

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance

And they rang a louder bell.

When he first asked me for clothes and toys, I was in denial. I thought it was some major mistranslation and that Google had messed up. I double checked. And he wrote again, in German this time, with the same key words: kids, clothes, toys, no money. But he’s also looking to buy car (or so it says on FB).

Then I got angry. Yes, I might look as if I have pots of money because three sides of the outside of the house are freshly painted and the inside is obviously a work in progress. And yes, I’m a foreigner so I must have money. And yes, I’m a woman so I’m supposedly programmed to feel empathy for women and kids in need. But he’s also buying a car. And I don’t know him from Attila. And what if it was all a ruse to scope out the house and make off with all that furniture waiting to be fixed! And then I got angry at myself for being so distrustful and cynical.

I moved on. I started to bargain with myself. I’d already paid over the odds for the chest of drawers and I’d paid for delivery (I’ve since transferred the money). Was I now supposed to go out and buy clothes and toys for this chap’s kids? And how did I know that he wasn’t a con artist and living in the lap of relative luxury funded by soft touches like myself? Perhaps I should go visit him and see for myself. And then decide. But what would that make me – a social worker? And a skeptic. Why not just buy the damn stuff and be done with it? But if I’m taking that tone, I’m doing it unwillingly and the good deed would be tainted.

Then came the depression, and the guilt, and the realisation that maybe I’m not as good a person as I think I am if I’m even questioning ignoring his need … if it is a real need. Aghhhhhhhhhhhhh!

I’ve now reached acceptance. I’ve asked him for the kids’ sizes and ages and I plan to go shopping this weekend. Yep, he might be a con man. It might all be a scam. And I might be an idiot. And if that’s the case …. well, I have a degree in self-beratement from a previous life. so I can just dust off the certificate. But if there’s a chance that he’s genuine, and that his need is real, and that he’s so at the end of his tether that he’s had to ask a total stranger for help, then what choice do I have?

As my man Sydney said so long ago: Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.

But lest there be any confusion here – I’m not doing it to be good, to be nice, to be Christian. I’m with Anthony de Mello on this one [The masquerade of charity] – this isn’t charity – it’s enlightened self-interest: he gets what he needs for his kids, and I get to feel that I’ve done something useful.

 

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.

Village living

Walking down the village yesterday evening, lost in my own little world, I spied a vision ahead that had me wondering if the nip of házi vad körte pálinka (homemade wild pear brandy) I’d just had was doing something to my eyes. I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing on main street Balatonmaygaród. Come to think of it, there are only two streets – Petőfi Sándor  and Dózsa György – and they intersect at a T-junction just by the church. That it’s not exactly a bustling metropolis is just one of the many charming things about it. Anyway, Petőfi  is the main street – the main road – the one that goes straight through the village. I was headed over to the neighbours for a game of croquet and smoked salmon sarnies. I know. It’s some life. But hey, someone has to live it. And it’d been a long day. And it was Friday.

The builders had arrived as usual, about 7.36 am. Eight of them. And by 7.50 am they were all at work. I’ll say one thing for the tradesmen who have worked or are working on the house – they know how to work. None of this breastfeeding shovel stuff or lolling around discussing what they might eventually get around to doing. Each man has his job and is busy doing it.  They even take lunch breaks in split shifts, choreographing their work so that not a minute is wasted. And all in good humour, too.

The eight were there to start for a couple of hours of blitz-like doing. Then they whittled down to four, only one of whom was a regular; the other three were new. And just when I’d gotten the hang of who took how many sugars in what, too.

They hung a plastic tarp to block the archway, more to keep the dust in than to keep me out (I hope) so I couldn’t really see what they were up to. I snuck a peek at one stage and saw the two plasterers waltzing around on their ladders, stepping to it, one in full voice, belting out rockabilly folk songs – in Hungarian. And what a voice. By mid-afternoon, he was starting in on his light opera repertoire. Carnegie Hall doesn’t know what it’s been missing. I was vaguely tempted to capture it on video but I thought better of it. Maybe his wife doesn’t know he sings and he’s been dodging the church choir for years. I couldn’t take the risk.

Friday, being Friday, we cracked open a few beers when they’d wrapped up for the day and were hanging around waiting on their lift. The gaffer arrived and doled out the pay packets and then produced the offending bottle of pálinka. I’d had a run-in with said beverage some time ago at a pig killing down in Békéscsaba and we’re only recently back on drinking terms. Some of this homemade stuff is at rotgut level, but this was lovely. Really smooth. As I’ve learned to my cost, it’s rude to refuse it, if offered. Just about the only acceptable excuse is that you’re driving or that you’re a teetotaler. But as I so obviously wasn’t either, with my grapefruit beer in hand (don’t I live the high life), I had to be polite. Propriety is my middle name.

So, having had a sip or two of the deadly pear, I took off down the street to keep my appointment at the Kánya Ház. It would be my croquet debut. After we’d had a nagyfröccs (2 dl white wine + 1 dl soda water) or two, to go with the Irish smoked salmon and cucumber sandwiches (neat little crustless triangular works of culinary art that just begged to eaten  with one’s little finger cocked), we set up to play. I can’t say I got the style down. I was holding the mallet like I would a putter and eyeing up the ball (is it called a ball in croquet?) like I was on the 18th green playing for glory. I got the hang of the roquets and the croquets and I won. Both games. Not that I’m bragging. But I think I’ve found my calling.

But anyway, that’s not what I started to say. Back to my vision. The neighbour lady (I think she’s German) from a few doors up was out mowing her grass – the patch between the path and the road outside the house that each of us is responsible for. Now, remember those cheeky postcards from Brighton and Blackpool from the 1940s? She could have modelled for them. And there she was in all her glory, mowing the grass in her swimsuit and her floppy hat and not a bother on her.

You gotta love it. Especially when I think of how the old néni next door was berating me for letting myself go. I used to make an effort when I first arrived apparently – and now look at me. My wardrobe has shrunk to two pairs of shorts, a pair of crops, and seven t-shirts (two styles, different colours). Village life certainly has a way of stripping it all back to what matters. The basics.

And for those of you following the renovation , all is going to plan. András is here today finishing off the insulation and sheetrock. The place is looking bright and airy. And the open archway is making a massive difference to how it all looks.