This Sort of Thing...


This Sort of Thing - December 2023



1 December, Friday

Behind Advent Door 1, Jack Nicholson saying, ‘Little pigs. Little pigs. Let me come in.’ Well that’s enough of that!

Priyatelkata visited her other house for gutter repairs. She does this every 1st December, starting today.

A gypsy clearing trees next door left his chainsaw in our shed because he had no petrol in his car to carry it home. His mouth was full (well, half full) of Shane MacGowan’s teeth. An endearing way to pay his respects.

We had warmth and sunniness. Wearing tee-shirts, we cleared away snowstorm garden debris from last weekend.

In Gaza the seven-day ceasefire ended.


2 December, Saturday

Cat Nouveau enjoys playing with the jingle jangle rosary beads from Dingle that dangle from the rafters in the upstairs room near a framed photograph of Leeds United’s 1964 promotion winning squad (ah, big Jack and wee Billy).

Perhaps the cat’s a Roman Catlic. We’ll call him Brother Crado so friends and neighbours will think he’s monastic AND Socialist, buttering both sides of the kozunak.

He’s definitely a Leeds fan. He’s no choice in the matter! And Leeds haven’t lost a game since we took him in. Today we beat the ‘Boro.

I hope he stays. Priyatelkata doesn’t like football.


3 December, Sunday

The dismantling of our antique tubular steel grapevine frame began. Not a difficult job, but sad. A victim of last weekend’s snow.

Such great memories of that pile of rust. Good times, bad times, you know I’ve had my share… picking mega-buckets of juicy black grapes every September and scraping my head on it to the point of suffering tremendous pain whenever I walked beneath because it was constructed twenty centimetres too low are particularly vivid, except on the occasions I lost consciousness.

Although cut back to miserable proportions, I sensed the vines’ excitement at talk of a new pergola.


4 December, Monday

If you’re having vermicelli for your tea tonight, then look away now.

Cat Nouveau has what might be described as a tummy problem. It’s probably as a result of him being stuffed full of antibiotics to resolve his lungsy problem. The second episode of his nocturnal deposits on the floor could be described as containing vermicelli. But the vermicelli appeared to be alive. It was growling at me and the poor cat.

The vet was pleased to see us. It had been five days since our last visit and she was worried that either the cat, or we, had died.


5 December, Tuesday

Remembering George who had worked on ships. As proof, he had tattoos, scars, tall tales and a vocabulary enhanced by words you wouldn’t use in the company of nuns. He had been a hard man until his need for a colostomy bag had come along.

I’d been a seafarer too, so we got on well. I listened where his family didn’t. He called me a lightweight because I’d never sailed through the Panama Canal.

He laughed as we said goodbye for the final time but when I reached his garden gate I looked back and saw him wiping away tears.


6 December, Wednesday

Today the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates Nikulden (Никулден) or St Nicholas' Day.

Apparently he was very generous and saved sailors, which presumably involved spending a lot of time hanging round the docks.

On this day Bulgarians eat fresh fish. Cruelly fresh, as during the preceding days fibreglass vats crammed with live carp appear outside food emporiums enabling shoppers to take their pick.

In English restaurants I’ve witnessed complaints about fish being served with heads intact. Imagine the chaos if a live carp was dished up. All that flapping!  Mushy peas and chips running down the walls.

Molly Malone would love it.


7 December, Thursday

I used to think poets

Were boring,

Until I became one of them

wrote Benjamin Zephaniah, in a poem.

Years ago I felt the same way, until reading poetry written by Benjamin Zephaniah opened my ears.

He also said poetry should be for everyone, regardless of their age, race or ability to read and write. A good and principled man who spoke up for the vulnerable and for minorities and who declined an order of chivalry from an imperialist institution because of what it stood for.

His passing today is heart breaking because his work wasn’t finished.  

Lickle bit, Bredda!


8 December, Friday

I’ve had a touch of the appendicitis this week. Niggling, rather than tremendous pain in the lower-right abdomen. Dr Wikipedia confirmed this.

Rising from my slumbers today it seemed worse so I called to book the 13:30 pm slot with Dr Khrushchev.

By noon the discomfort had moved a bit, thus negating appendectomy requirements. My ailment a combination of a mischief done whilst working in the garden and chronic hypochondria.

I rang the surgery to cancel. The receptionist called me a slabak (слабак), the Bulgarian word for ‘wimp’.

Meanwhile the pages at the back of my dictionary became swollen and red.


9 December, Saturday

It’s the birthday of my thirdborn child. She’s attained the age that I was when she was born. I miscalculated that she’d be giving birth today. But in her life she does have a puppy and a drum kit, which I never had.

I watched online news footage of Shane MacGowan’s funeral. It was yesterday, on what would have been Sinéad O'Connor’s fifty-seventh birthday. I had tears for my dear old Ireland.

In addition to the appendicitis, I’ve pulled a muscle in my back and clattered my head against a metal post in the garden.

I hurt in four places.


10 December, Sunday

The weather outside was frightfully dank so I stayed in and attempted to write a poem about Shane MacGowan. Despite learning to spell Cú Chulainn I only managed a poor imitation of what he'd have written himself.

I'd have called it 'Thank You for the Fairytale', which I thought was quite good, but a poem needs more than a title.

At least it put me in the frame of mind to finish my miserable winter poem that I started a month ago.

This cheered me up so I couldn't go back to Shane's poem.

A day spent honing and groaning.


11 December, Monday

We were in desperate need of some short stubby pencils and a strong blue nylon bag for carrying logs in from the woodshed for the petchka. Luckily a new IKEA shop has recently opened in Veliko Tarnovo so we went for a gander.

We got everything we wanted for just one lev (43p). We're really looking forward to enjoying the benefits of our new loyalty card.

Before leaving we bought a jar of herrings, all of which were named after members of Abba.

When we got home we listened to a CD by the Cardigans, a far superior Swedish band.


12 December, Tuesday

The day of the Technical Inspection (Bulgarian for MOT Test) revived memories of similar automotive shenanigans endured in other countries I have lived in where I was subjected to tremendous levels of stress and brutal financial consequences.

Nikolay the mechanic smiled as I handed him a mere 110 leva (£48). Always smiling, he always has time for us and our car always passes. 1960s built Ladas usually pass, so our state-of-the-art 2007 vintage Toyota sailed through.

Some say the test isn’t thorough, or Bulgarian mechanics are slapdash, but our test certificate bears President Radev’s signature, so it must be good.


13 December, Wednesday

We drove through beautiful mountains to our lovely Nova Zagora where the antique shop could be a distribution centre for Aladdin’s Caves.

We asked a man and woman market stallholder team for gourds (for Priyatelkata’s art). Neither they nor a dozen stallholder friends had them so they showed us their holiday photographs, sold us enormous fresh leeks and gave us bulbs for growing samardala, an ingredient of the perfect condiment for eggs and tomatoes. 

Our highlight, however, was seeing a one-legged man riding a bicycle. It had only one pedal, attached to his sole foot by an elaborate elastic arrangement.


14 December, Thursday

The whiff from the arse of our little cat pumped full of antibiotics reminds me of childhood days living in Middlesbrough, just downwind from ICI’s Wilton petro-chemical plant.

Lying in bed back then, wearing my British Steel Corporation themed pyjamas and gas mask, dreaming of a life as Dusty Springfield’s adorable husband, I would wonder what ICI actually did to earn their brass.

Lately it became clear that they boiled tender felines to extract hydrogen sulphide which the local council would use as chemical weaponry to halt waves of refugees attempting to cross the River Tees to escape famine-stricken Hartlepool.


15 December, Friday

We chose the year’s wettest day to drive along the Balkans' most dangerous road to Resen where the streets have no name signs. Even if they had we would still have struggled to locate Ulitsa Buzludzha because of the intensity of the lashing rain. Priyatelkata was delighted to find that elusive gourd salesman.

Cat Nouveau’s latest ailment, says the Google Bugle, is pica. When stressed he licks settees and duvets. I hope we’ll be able to find the 100 guineas needed to pay his psychiatrist’s fee.

Also, we have a loose roof tile.

I spent the afternoon licking my duvet.


16 December, Saturday

Fair play to the people who make those advent calendar things. It’s amazing how they fit so many wee doors into their tatty bits of cardboard. We’ve already had 93 days this month with over 100 still to go. Will December ever end?

The weather outside is frankly shite, but it won’t beat me. I’ll sit on the terrace and read my book.

Meanwhile my love for allegedly outspoken Clare Daly MEP deepens as quickly as my loathing of Ursula von der Leyen (not forgetting Biden, Sunak, Starmer, et al), my sorrow for Palestine and my fear for the world.


17 December, Sunday

After days of dinginess, today’s bit of sun seemed an outright champagne supernova. So we walked along lovely old cobbled Ulitsa General Gurko (the real Veliko Tarnovo) admiring the spur in the river topped by the Boris Denev State Gallery and the Asen Dynasty Monument; a view that captured my heart forever in April 2015.

Lounging in the antique-ish coffee bar in the Yantra Hotel’s lobby we could imagine Brezhnev and Zhivkov discussing the next glorious five-year plan over coffee and sticky buns at an adjacent table.

We wished more five year plans could turn out as gloriously as ours.


18 December, Monday

The woman before me in the pharmacy check-out queue was holding a packet of the same Vitamin D capsules as me.

She stared!

Eventually I said, ‘Neh haressvam Dekemvree’ (‘I don’t like December’, in Bulgarian).

The staring stopped and the floodgates opened. She didn’t like the whole of winter but the Vitamin D cheered her up but it hadn’t mattered when she lived in a village but it had been her late mother’s house which her sister wanted to sell for the money and now she had an apartment in town… and… and… in Bulgarian.

I wanted to kiss her.


19 December, Tuesday

Since I picked up War and Peace I’ve read the first three chapters twice (so I’ve only 984 pages to go) but also some other much more readable, less sleep-inducing material. Walter Macken’s I Am Alone, for example; a brilliant book which I finished today.

Eventually I will master Tolstoy’s masterpiece but for now it’s on the back burner, along with Harry Potter and the Paedophile Ring. My failure disappoints me but I’m smug in having given something up a fortnight before the world announces New Year’s resolutions.

Giving up Tolstoy is much easier than giving up whiskey or chocolate.


20 December, Wednesday

In Gabrovo, in a pedestrianised street lined both sides with linden trees, sits a café pronounced lee-pee-tay (Липите, Bulgarian for ‘the linden trees’). Built and furnished in an epoch predating plastic and Taylor Swift, it remains unspoilt and the perfect location for strong black coffee and traditional Bulgarian cake. In early summer it’s heaven.

We went there today. A city higher than ours so there was snow covering the stylish array of nineteenth and twentieth century buildings and daunting but intriguing Communist era sculptures.

A mountain community with a unique atmosphere. We’d both be happy to live there, but we don’t.


21 December, Thursday

Some December days nothing happens and I get that old song Busy Doing Nothing stuck in my head.

Today I’ve been this busy:

  1. It took me an hour to get out of bed.
  2. I spent an hour procrastinating.
  3. I spent an hour before that planning the procrastinating.
  4. I removed my unsightly nasal hairs with the gadget for lighting the gas.
  5. I dozed on the settee for an hour whilst pretending to read a book.
  6. I sighed 57 times.
  7. I learnt how to tell my arse from my elbow.

I’d like to be unhappy but I never do have the time.


22 December, Friday

We celebrate today the Birthday of the Invincible Sun (Winter Solstice) even though there won’t be noticeably lighter skies until next month.

It’s the darkest day so we’re merely marking the point where things can’t get any worse; a bit like celebrating the release of a new Ed Sheeran album.

Outside at 5:27 a.m., in darkness, we danced our purple-stained naked flesh around burning oak logs whilst chanting the ancient words of a song by Kate Bush to rejoice the death of the crone and the birth of the infant year.

But we wore our wellies because it was muddy.


23 December, Saturday

If I had an eight-year-old grandson with the physical features of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, I wouldn’t let the parents add insult to peculiarity with a Kim Jong Un hairstyle.

The not-so-little lad’s currently staying with his grandparents across the road from us. He plays alone in the street. We try talking to him but he speaks only Dutch. His family is Bulgarian but they live near Groningen in the Nether Regions.

With his portly build we hesitated offering him chocolate but the damage seems already done. Hopefully he’ll remember our kindness when he’s aiming his nuclear missiles.


24 December, Sunday

These so-called festivities seem to highlight everything that is wrong in the world. Priyatelkata and I want no part in them. We simply consider how incredibly lucky we are to live privileged lives tainted only by the knowledge that we are toothless against those entranced by greed, power and a determination to destroy the hopes, homes and lives of ordinary people.

Living under a roof with sufficient food and without fear should be a right, not a privilege.

The rich and powerful sicken us, as do many who turn blind eyes to their inhumanity. How do they sleep at night?


25 December, Monday

The town of Tryavna dates back to the twelfth century and hand-carved wooden fridge magnets on sale in every shop there are evidence of this. A gorgeous place to visit, especially in summer as its mountain location provides cool relief from the humidity of Veliko Tarnovo. Strangely it was 20°C today, and sunny.

Although twinned with the town of Argos in Cyprus, Tryavna doesn’t have a branch of Argos. Or maybe the shop was simply obscured by hordes of people returning unwanted or malfunctioning gifts.

Driving home, we saw a pair of wild chamois goats; a perfect day’s perfect end.


26 December, Tuesday

Cat Nouveau sniffed the great outdoors for the first time since rescue day but wasn’t impressed. Nearby a large dog had escaped and got its cruelty chain tangled in a barbed wire fence. We’d no idea how long it had been there but it seemed pleased to be leaving as we cut it free.

Bulgaria isn’t always nice!

After a gluttonous lunch of sweet prátaí curry on our sun-kissed terrace I sat beneath the oldest walnut tree with pottertea, book and various menagerie members to read and doze away the warm afternoon until the sunset 47 seconds later than yesterday.


27 December, Wednesday

Whilst making coffee, this appeared in my head…

The reiki technique

Cures sick Japanese poems 

For seventeen yen

But in Bulgaria, rakia has the same effect for less.

In the absence of snow, ski slope owners are renting out bicycles. If they’d ridden bicycles all along they’d be skiing today. They consider themselves adaptable. By 2040 they need to grow flameproof skin or wear knickers made from oven gloves. A dusting of nuclear fallout may revive the pistes and festive greetings card scenes.

Bulgaria’s top astrologer predicted a catalogue of catastrophic events for 2024. How does she think them up?


28 December, Thursday

We got our Hoover back from the Hoover repair man, even though it’s not a Hoover. It might be a Matryoshka Mark III Deluxe. In his cramped little workshop, this man can fix anything electrical. He’d just completed work getting the Sputnik 2 spacecraft back on the launch pad and was cleaning up the dog hairs in it with our vacuum cleaner to ensure that both worked like new.

Plans to meet friends for lunch were cancelled this morning because they were expecting a delivery of something more interesting than us at an unspecified time. Being unsociable, we didn’t complain.


29 December, Friday

I had indigestion from eating too many Rennies. A pizza at the restaurant adjacent to the town hall was probably the real culprit. Don’t mix food and politics, they say. Attempting to discuss the genocide in Gaza with the waitress, we were told to shut up and eat our greens.

We can’t be arsed waiting for the New Year so we’ll finish what’s already in our fridge (tomorrow’s breakfast should do the job) and restore our healthy eating regime forthwith.

The local firework people can’t wait until the New Year either. Our dogs will spend the weekend under the bed. 


30 December, Saturday

In bed this morning, on my phone, I wrote a poem about what I’ll abstain from in the New Year. Being borderline saintly, it took only minutes to compose. In 1980 I gave up wasting money on fruit machines in pubs. I still see the cherries but I haven’t faltered, mainly because modern technology renders such larcenous apparatus impossible to understand. This time I’m giving up teetotalism and celibacy.

Later, there was nowhere in town to park the car so I couldn’t withdraw money. Even if I wanted to engage in sinful deeds I’ve no way of financing my wickedness.


31 December, Sunday

My Nan would say on this day that if you step outside you’ll see a man with as many noses as there are days left in the year. Thinking back, if the diabetic next door neighbour had been out in his garden, she could have said the same thing about legs.

And now, as we approach another year’s end, let’s sing an old Belgian folk song. The work, I think, of Jacobus Barbireau…

Get up, get up, get busy, do it

I want to see you party

Get up people, now get down to it

Before the night is over


The end of the shortest day in Veliko Tarnovo.

The end of the shortest day in Veliko Tarnovo.

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