Thursday, 31 May 2012

18 months all clear!

18 months after surgery, my PSA has come back all clear!!!
So pleased, so relieved, so grateful...

Wednesday, 30 May 2012


The news is full of it: Syria bullying it's own people, Germany bullying Greece, Russia bullying the Ukraine and the USA & China bullying anyone that's left to be bullied!

Bullying is part of life and considered completely natural in the animal world as a way of passing on stronger genes through time. The more aggressive male gets the best females, who in turn have the stronger children. But the 'more aggressive' human male has to play a very different hand in a more vigilant society; a society where bullying is considered  very 'uncool', by almost everyone.

What is bullying?

A country can bully another country, a bank can do this to a company or another bank, but most of us recognise it first at an early age, in the school playground. As a young Irish boy with a strong accent, I witnessed it first hand in its simplest form at the age of 5. The school bully, Adrian Webster, would come up to me and punch me to the ground, for no reason. Then all the other kids would stand around chanting and ridiculing me for a few minutes until they got bored. Not crying and not reacting was the key to survival at the time, but becoming friends with  the other school bully was a later tact. I thought of punching back but I saw the deformed results of those who had, and believe me it wouldn't have been worth it.

Bullies now have to be far more sophisticated because we live in times where this practice is considered to be extremely anti social. So in the office, the bully may not go up and punch a person, he may just wear them down psychologically, just picking away every day, almost a form of entertainment to him, but with a devastating effect on the victim. I say 'he' because bullying is mainly a male trait fuelled by testosterone, but I have seen it 'woman on woman' and even between the opposite sexes.

Should we confront the bully? 
Yes, for sure but be prepared for the consequences!

In an ideal world, you go up to the bully, explain the error of his ways, he says sorry, the bullying stops and you feel happy that you've confronted him. 
But in reality, the bully usually has an entourage, a group of people who like to be around him. Sometimes because they just like to take part in the fringe bullying for fun, other times because he's a popular guy and they don't see the harm in having a laugh, as long as it's not at their expense. The bully, more than anything doesn't want to feel silly or embarrassed in front of this group, he has an image to uphold, he also needs to entertain them!

So you decide enough is enough, you take the chance and make that confrontation. The bully, then naturally his whole group hit back at you... "It's only banter, we're just having a laugh, he doesn't mind, ask him?" they all shout back! 
But 'banter' is when a group of people are all having a laugh and a joke, where no single person is being constantly picked out and everyone feels included and comfortable with what's going on. 

Bullying is very different...  

There are loads of definitions, I think this one does it justice...

"Bullying may be characterised as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour, an abuse or misuse of power through means intended to undermine, humiliate, denigrate or injure the recipient. Bullying or harassment may be by an individual against an individual (perhaps by someone in a position of authority such as a manager or leader) or involve groups of people. It may be obvious or it may be insidious. Whatever form it takes, it is unwarranted and unwelcome to the individual".

So you've made the confrontation, the bully and the entourage have hit back, and if you're lucky they will agree that they have been bullying and agree to stop. 
But, far more likely, you will now become the target! You have embarrassed the bully and the entourage! They feel ashamed, they know they're wrong, they're not necessarily bad people, but you have forced them to examine their own poor behaviour. They may not even like or speak to you again, but you've given them something valuable to take into their future.

The person who was the victim might even come and tell you in private that he is grateful for you having the courage to do what he couldn't do himself! But inside he is delighted because the focus is now off him and firmly on you. If he keeps quiet he may now even be accepted into the entourage group as a full member, but he will always be a victim with this tact.

Yes, you can feel better about yourself, but did you really solve a problem, or just shift it elsewhere? Is bullying just human nature, will it always be with us no matter what?

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Cancer World...

I was interviewed by this European wide publication last month and today they sent me 2 copies. You can read my article below. 

What is 'Cancer World' about...

The aim of Cancer World is to help reduce the unacceptable number of deaths from cancer that is caused by late diagnosis and inadequate cancer care. We know our success in preventing and treating cancer depends on many factors. Tumour biology, the extent of available knowledge and the nature of care delivered all play a role. But equally important are the political, financial, bureaucratic decisions that affect how far and how fast innovative therapies, techniques and technologies are adopted into mainstream practice. Cancer World explores the complexity of cancer care from all these very different viewpoints, and offers readers insight into the myriad decisions that shape their professional and personal world. 

Cancer World includes in-depth interviews with some of Europe’s most influential oncology leaders, who are invited to comment on breaking news, discuss complex and difficult issues and share their experiences in overcoming personal and professional challenges as they have pushed forward the boundaries of their practice. The magazine also features interviews with people with a high public profile that have an important impact on cancer care – they shape public attitudes and influence how cancer services are delivered and research conducted. We hope that these stories will give our readers a broader perspective on cancer and perhaps inspire some initiatives that will help improve the care that cancer patients receive.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Back home, but only just!!!

We started back, leaving Ojdula in Romania at about 8am, but Expedition Romania still held some surprises on the 500 mile trip to Belgrade in Serbia!

All was well until we stopped at a tiny village, still on the Romanian side. I turned off the engine, we bought our crisps, pop and chocolate and all piled back into the vehicle. Flicked the ignition switch and pressed the button, nothing! Tried again and again, just dead. All sorts ran through our minds as we still had about 250 miles to go. We were trying to puzzle it out, when a well built lady walked past, could tell we were in trouble and signalled to us that she would get help. This was followed by a series of people who then attended, first a thin woman who went to get her son, he went and got his brother who then went and got his disable friend he could speak a little English. He suggested getting this other guy who came along and looked, then went and got another guy in overalls. He examined the engine and then drove off, coming back with a long piece of wire which he attached so that we could start the engine by just sparking the other end off the + side of the battery, and this is what we did every time we started up from then on. I gave the guy £20, even though he really didn't want to take it, but I forced it on him. I had just given him 4 days wages but he had saved us considerably more. We were all so grateful to be on our way once again.

It was a long day, 2 hour shifts on the driving between 2 of us, but we ploughed on, all looking forward to being back home. So all we had to do now was successfully cross the Romanian/Serbian border, something which we were warned might not be easy. First we pulled into the Romanian side and a young guy, greeted us asking for our passports. He was intrigued that I had an 'Irish' passport but the others had 'Great Britain & Northern Ireland' on theirs. I tried to explain that the English had stolen the top half from the Irish some time ago, but the fight would never end to get it back! I was trying to appeal to his nationalism, but he couldn't quite work out what I meant. All was well until he looked at the vehicle documents and saw that we were not the registered owners.  He then changed from the nice guy into a border guard and shouted for us all to get out of the vehicle and switch the engine off. He'd watched all that type of film. I explained that I was the owner, and in England we have to send away the other half of the document which then gets sent back to you with your name on it. He talked to an older guy in Romanian and they both kept looking at us for a reaction, I think. He then asked me if I was going to sell the vehicle in Serbia, to which I said "no" (because I was going to give it away!) He made me promise to him that I would not come back and tell him that I'd sold it, which I found really strange, because if I had sold it, I wasn't going to go all the way back to tell him I had! He finally agreed to let us go, but warned us that the Serbians might not let us in! As we then had to hot wire the 4x4 to start it, he didn't look convinced that he had made to right decision, and we weren't convinced that we wouldn't be returning to him in an hour, begging to get back into his country. As we drove the 500 yards to the Serbian border, I asked the others to keep calm and try and relax, just letting me talk to the Serbians. A nameless voice in the vehicle said "let's just tell them the truth, it's always the best way", which made me laugh to myself. After all, the truth was this... 

We were driving an uninsured vehicle into Serbia, that I had already declared on my insurance as not having been modified, which it had, and lied about the details of the other named driver.  The vehicle documents were in the name of Mr Simms, who I'd never met but was given these documents by a guy who loaned us the vehicle, who I'd met once when I bought the vehicle off him for nothing. I had taxed the vehicle to drive it to Dover, knowing that it would be left in Serbia. I had a letter of permission to drive the vehicle written by Mr Simms, witnessed by an anonymous person and given to me by a third party, and I was taking the vehicle across the Romanian/Serbian border to hand over to a guy called 'Dragon', who I also had never met or even spoken to. It would probably then have a high calibre machine gun mounted on the back and be fighting in Syria by next week, with the University of Cumbria logo on the side.
Having crossed a few international borders in my time for various reasons, I knew that these patrol guys just wanted to be told, what they wanted to hear, and certainly not 'the truth'. Had I even told the partial truth, we would all still be in a Serbian prison right now!

As it was, after telling the lovely, well armed woman on the Serbian border that we were just going to Belgrade to watch the football, trying to keep the subject on 'football' so that she wouldn't ask how we were leaving Serbia, which she didn't, she went away to debate us with a male colleague. They both came back, asked us to open the back of the vehicle, and I think that 3 weeks of dirty washing did the trick, with them not wanting to touch anything. I then started to admire the huge Romanian truck that was beside us, asking them questions about it which they couldn't understand, then went on to ask all sorts of questions about Serbian insurance; at which point they said we could go. I had bored them enough and tried not to lie by being very economical with the truth. 

We headed off to the airport very relieved and I couldn't wait to dump that 4x4 on Dragon that night, a weight off my shoulders, I can tell you. Where is it now? I haven't got a clue, I'm no longer the owner and it's not on my Insurance, tax disc in the post for a refund, job done.

After a sleep on the floor of Belgrade airport, Wizz Air flew us back to the UK. They took off on time, and landed 10 minutes early. Only £90 each, no food but you got a free twix bar if you ordered an alcoholic drink; no chance. Talked to Rob throughout the flight as we're both scared of flying, but it was a smooth flight and landed in murky Luton at 7.30am.

What a queue for getting into the UK, it took an hour to reach passport control. There were signs everywhere telling us this was because of 'increased security', what a load of crap! When everyone finally got to the front, one of the 4 people on duty, checked the passport photo was vaguely like you, and you then walked through. In the customs area, NOBODY was stopped or baggage checked, there wasn't even as person on duty. There were people employed to keep the crowd calm and signs everywhere warning that it wouldn't be tolerated if we assaulted the staff. I was home, in BARKING MAD Britain, I love it!

Beverley was there to meet me and after a lot of hugs and kisses, breakfast at the airport was bliss before the drive home and 10 hours lovely sleep, after a glass or three of wine.

Nearly 2,872 hits on the blog while I was in Romania took the total hits now to over 30,000. Thank you all for your lovely e mails and well wishes which helped along the way. 

Friday, 18 May 2012

Time for one more...

At last, a brown bear! While I was out with Paul and his wife Laura, the others had gone with Barni, to a lake known to be a drinking place for bears. There was no disappointment this time; a large male did a ‘bluff charge’ up to about 30m away. This is when a bear is trying to tell you that you are too close, it rarely ends in an attack as long as you stand still and don’t look the bear in the eye. They all admitted to bricking it, but did get some decent footage. I had another great day meeting some of Paul and Laura’s friends and Laura helped me with the present I bought Beverley, by writing down the translation of the hand-painted Hungarian script. I managed to sort my e-mails and actually go on Facebook too!
I met another guy in the village last night that could speak English very well. Joppi was 13 when he was sent to a school in Hungary, and from there ended up in Denmark where he completed his schooling. Now back in the village he is building a house here and wants to settle back where he was born, in Ojdula. He told us that only 2 % of the people in this area are Romanian, and they all speak Hungarian and consider themselves to be of that nationality. And yet, they are forced to fly the Romanian flag outside all public buildings, are not allowed to show their own flag and even if stopped by the police, they have to converse with them in Romanian. I just hate oppression, don’t you? It’s going on all over the world and there’s nothing that people can do about it; I see no end.
Driving into the town yesterday with Paul and Laura, my phone rang and with a number I didn’t recognise. I was imagining it was someone like my dentist letting me know I had missed an appointment, but no, it was BBC Radio Cumbria! A new drug for Prostate Cancer is about to be approved by NICE and made available on the NHS. It can extend the life of those with advanced PCa by up to a year, so they wanted to do a live interview with me. “Of course, I would be delighted to”, I said. “When do you want to do it?” “In 10 minutes”, the producer said. So as we neared town, they phoned back and I jumped from the vehicle (when it had stopped) and did the interview. You can hear it on the BBC Cumbria web site, it was at about 8.55am -ish after the sports report. One day we’ll get a drug that can defeat this thing forever, until then we must encourage those men who want to fight on, and give not only support, but hope to them and their families. We must also look at the drug companies who are heavily subsidised by the government, and ask why they charge the NHS the ridiculous amounts that they do!
Tonight we plan the return journey! I hope we can plan it better than the journey here. It is a 450-mile drive to Belgrade and our flight is at 6.30am on Sunday. So the plan is to leave here around 8am on Saturday, meaning we should arrive at the airport, with rest stops, at about 8pm Saturday night. If we do we might even get to watch the Champions League Final between Chelsea and B Munich! We then sleep on the airport floor until we are called for the flight; ahhh sheer luxury!
Beverley picks me up at Luton airport at about 8.30 am and we drive to Penrith (after many hugs and kisses) arriving in Penrith about 2pm. Well that’s the plan, that’s the expectations, now let’s do the reality, again!
A big thank you to those who gave substantial help to make this journey possible…
Beverley (my wife)
The Transylvanian Wildlife Project: Paul & Laura White, Laci, Barni & Botti.
The University of Cumbria
The Prostate Cancer charity
Richard Hopkins (4x4)
Paul Welham (Expedition Lecturer)
Paul (my brother)
And thank you to everyone else who contributed in any way, no matter how small, you made it happen.
This has been an amazing expedition! Expectations have met with very different realities much of the time, but we have adapted to overcome obstacles. Sometimes fraught with difficulty and personalities conflicting when tiredness set in; it has not been a place for the feint hearted. Paul and I have been good friends for several years, and as the two older males in any animal group, sometimes we lashed out at each other. We are heading of tomorrow, with a combined desire to leave what happened in Romania, in Romania. Yes, it was the experience of a life time, in every way!

Beverley/Chantal please post on Facebook with photo :-)   xxxx 

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Only days to go...

Wednesday now, and on Saturday we travel on to cross the Serbian border, I hope it’s not as bad as we have been warned to expect! I have a Serbian friend called Zoran who is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, so I hope his cousins are working on the border that Saturday night.
I didn't take any of the photos on the blog today, but would have liked to. I just want to give you a feel for what was around us as we trecked through the forest. We still have a few days to go so who knows, we might get lucky. These animals stay well clear of humans, because more are there to kill them than to film.
Brown Bear
 A big hello to John and Cath, our lovely next-door neighbours in Penrith who I know are following the blog. Are you up for starting on the house 2 weeks today (Tue 29th) John? Beverley and I can be living in a palace by the summer holidays. You’ll have to catch me up on all the footie, I only know City won the title and Arsenal came 3rd .What happened to Burnley?
I need to make a number of corrections to my earlier blog as it’s now being read here in the village and we can’t afford a diplomatic crisis. The blacksmith’s wife was 60 not 36, which is still very young. When I asked originally, a lady held up 3 fingers then 6, so I thought she was 36. Apparently she held up 3 to tell me that she would show me with her fingers, then 6 fingers to say she was 60. The local man was not crushed by something falling off his lorry but by the wheel of something going over his chest. There is a local florist and they make all the funeral wreathes. I just thought local people made them because they looked so similar to their hedges, and I still haven’t found the florist’s shop.
Wild Boar
There are only 3 people in the village who know enough Hungarian to be of help, Paul White, his wife Laura and Anna. I have developed a method of sign language that others seem to understand which is just as well because most of the time I have to cope alone. Going to the supermarket with Anna and Lossi takes 20 minutes to get a trolley full, by myself that would take half a day. If a product has a picture on it’s fairly easy, but most haven’t. When I wanted spicy sausage I had to go and get a packet of paprika which had a picture of paprika on it, then go to the butcher and point to the picture, then the sausages. Fish Fingers were easy, they are in a ‘birds-eye’ packet but over here they are called ‘Captain Igloo’. It’s fun though struggling around with people chipping in to help you, but I can’t get over how if you don’t understand someone, they will just shout louder and louder thinking that you will eventually. “I’m English, not deaf” I want to shout back! In England, people park close to the supermarket because they are lazy; here they do it for a different reason. When I first parked, I did it as I do in England; I always park as far away as possible. This has 2 advantages, firstly there’s plenty of space and secondly I benefit from the exercise. As I walked across the car park to the front entrance, a young boy approached me and I haven’t got a clue what he was saying, but he clutched his stomach in agony, coughing and holding his hand out, but I got the idea. I gave him 5 leu, about £1, he made a remarkable recovery and ran off with a smile! I had cured him!? Without knowing, I was now being marked as a ‘generous fool’ by others who would wait until I returned to my car after shopping. As I came out of the front entrance, women and children of every age wanted the same cure that I’d given the little boy earlier, and there just wasn’t enough to go around. They were still running after my vehicle as I sped from the car park. I felt like Elton John at a gay rally! Now I park close, use other people as decoys and judge the sprint back to perfection, keys already in hand.
Yesterday, after spending all day in the forest we saw plenty of fresh bear, wild boar, wolf prints and a fair amount of their dung and hair, but didn’t see an animal. Nothing on the camera traps this morning either, so with just 4 days left will we come back without a sighting? If you ask anyone in the group they will say that they’ve seen just about everything, but nobody has a photo and nobody saw anything at the same time as someone else. Are we all just making it up? Well when you want to see something so badly and the light is poor, you start to convince yourself of anything. A bush or a rock could as easily be a bear so hey, what the hell, it was! A cow running across a field becomes a wild boar, a large dog becomes a wolf and a gypsy in a fur jacket becomes a Lynx; need I go on? So I’ve seen brown bears every evening, dozens of wolves, numerous wild boars and a Lynx wearing a red neck scarf with matching shoes.
After yesterday in the forest we then went up to ‘bear ridge’, which I’ve renamed ‘frozen ridge’, after standing up there for 2 hours in the bitter wind. As hyperthermia set in, I started to get bottom cramps, pins and needles and very tired. I went back to the vehicle with Rob before the others and I’m having a day at base to recoup some energy. I’ll get tidied up here in this ‘student’ accommodation and make the dinner for tonight, at last something we all love and recognise, Captain Igloo’s fish fingers with chips, peas and tomato sauce. You can only eat so much smoked sausage and we’ve all reached that point
I must talk about Romanian Gypsies, and this is not fact but just what I’ve observed in my short time here. Every town has a gypsy population; maybe 20% of the total in most towns but a huge amount live out in the countryside in separate townships and as individual groups. They are nothing like English travellers! They keep very much to themselves rarely mixing with other people, and I imagine it would be very bad for a gypsy to fall in love outside their community. They work very, very hard, no doubt about that! They seem to get the blame for anything bad, though I’ve not seen evidence that they are any worse than others. They don’t seem to cause any trouble but I would be reluctant to go into their community by myself to film. I have a feeling that with the language barrier I wouldn’t be very welcome and have no way of explaining myself.
So how’s the expedition been? Certainly an experience but more a challenge, and one things for sure, none of us will look at the other and see the same person that we saw 3 weeks ago. But if a first year student asked me to write a list of advice to make their experience better, it would probably go like this…
·      An expedition needs rules, agreed by everyone from the start and then implemented throughout. Without rules you are just going on holiday!

·      Draw up a ‘responsibilities list’: who checks the car oil, the first aid kit, the bear spray etc. on a regular basis. If you are living in accommodation, who cleans the toilets, the kitchen etc? Never share a responsibility, because when it’s not done, the two blame each other!

·      Go camping for a long weekend several times before you decide on your team. Some people, who get on great on daily basis, quickly tire of each other over an extended period. Nobody’s fault, just a fact, you are all different.

·      If you travel by road be more realistic about the length of the journey. Your biggest enemy is tiredness in the group, because then all logic goes out the window and relationship breakdown is inevitable.

·      Make the roll of your expedition leader very clear: to promote unity within the group and make everyone feel included. 

·      Have daily meetings, these stop any issues growing and getting out of hand. It’s a good time to let everyone discuss the plans for tomorrow.

·      When you have finished planning the expedition academically, you must then plan it for 'reality,' because ‘expected’ is very different to ‘reality’.

·      When you have raised funds make sure that everyone has a weekly balance of where the fund stands before the expedition, then make sure that there is an agreed procedure for all expenditure, with receipts.

·      When you decide on a date for your expedition, make sure you leave free days in your studies, before and after. You then get time to pack and unpack without stress.

·      Think carefully before deciding on an exotic costly destination, you get no less marks for going to Skegness! But if you get on well as a team, go to the end of the earth and make it the experience of a lifetime.
I think this might be my final blog from Romania, and thanks for sticking with me through the experience. I’m ready for home, some of Beverley’s amazing cooking and sharing a lovely big bed together. Ahhhh….
Many thanks to the Transylvanian Wildlife Project: To Paul White and his team Laci, Barni & Botti for making me feel so welcome and for being fantastic people to be with. Not forgetting Paul's lovely wife Laura, her Mum and little President Regina.You’ve put up with a very diverse group of 2nd year wildlife & media students and asked for little in return. If any of you ever make it to England, you are always welcome to stay with Beverley and I. Can’t promise you Brown Bears, but Cumbrian Farmers are by far scarier!
Thanks to Yossi and Evva, for all the cakes and kind words that I couldn't understand, and for allowing us to have the protection of Bhunda. Thanks to Anna and Lossi, for proudly showing Ryan and I around your home village and helping with so much translation, esspecially in the supermarket! Thanks to Colonel Gadaffi for all the fun and handshakes even though I couldn't understand a thing.
Thanks to the people of Ojdula, for making me feel so welcome with your smiles and waves every day. You have given me something back that I had lost, and will now treasure always.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Final week

Final week…
Anna and Lossi her husband came round to see me today, they are a couple that I’ve become friends with out here, just lovely people. They drove me the 10km to the supermarket to buy tomorrow’s dinner, the local shops only sell frozen meat in small quantities and I needed a lump big enough for 5 hungry lads tomorrow night. I got a whacking great 3kg lump of pork, 2 bottles of wine and some veg, total £19.50. I kid you not! I reckon that would have set me back £50 at home.
The others have gone on a climb to a higher pasture to camp overnight in a heavily populated bear area. Paul White suggested that because of my age it would be a struggle for me to keep up, and that I should stay in the village for the weekend, and given that a shepherd was mauled by a bear 2 days ago, I was only too happy to agree. As it was I had a great half-day out with Paul touring some of the Romanian villages, only accessible by 4x4 or horse (yes, I chose the 4x4 J) and then we went around to his mother in laws for lunch. It’s such an honour when you go abroad to be invited into a family home and this was no exception. At the house was Paul’s wife Laura, her sister and their mother, a lovely hospitable woman, and as I was about to find out, great cook. Also there was a little girl of 3, Regina, who I am certain will be the first woman president of Romania one day. So much fire in her, she reminded me of my daughter Sasha at the same age, they both used the same word over and over again with the same stroppy face…”No!” (Nam!) The lunch arrived, a bean soup with fresh onions on the side to sprinkle in, and some bread. When I’d finished I was full and thanked Laura’s mother for a fantastic lunch. Then, in came the main course! 3 pork fillet slices (Hungarian style) and a pile of mash the size of a football! Romanian potatoes are so tasty; I struggled but finished the lot. As the pudding was wheeled in I felt like an egg bound budgie, but hey you have to go for it sometimes don’t you?
 Paul White is a great guy, so committed to what he does as leader of the Transylvanian Wildlife Project. He runs his team with military precision and very strict rules, which you need in any expedition. Having completed many expeditions in the army I know how important that this discipline is, and I think that most of the lads in our team, though a bit apprehensive at first have now seen the light as far as this goes. Without discipline you have a ‘holiday’ not an expedition, and we didn’t come here for a vacation. National Geographic were so impressed with Paul’s project when they filmed here last year that he has had a large grant approved by them so he can buy equipment such as camera traps, filming equipment and other modern surveillance tools. I’m going to do all I can to help them when I return to the UK and if I’m lucky, perhaps I’ll get to come out here again to work with them.
It’s Saturday night now and next Saturday we will be leaving. I’m so looking forward to seeing Beverley and the kids again but I will feel genuinely sad to leave this village that has been so welcoming to me. Mmmm this Romanian wine is great and it was £2, what the hell am I doing living in England, but hey, when I need a liver transplant, maybe England will be the better place J
The farm fields are massive here and they are mainly all worked by hand. You often see 2 or 3 people planting crops, and when you drive past 2 days later they have only moved on a few rows. Apparently it’s cheaper to hire a gang of gypsies to sow your potato crop than hiring a potato-sowing machine. The workers start as soon as the sun rises and work until it’s too hot, then they rest for a few hours before carrying on until nightfall. Children go to school but they work also, why shouldn’t they, it builds their character and avoids them becoming a chav, which by the way, there seems to be no Romanian equivalent. If you were a person in Romania who decided to sleep 12 hours a day, watch TV for 8 hours, shoplift for an hour and spend the other 3 hours being generally rude to everyone you met, you would be stabbed to death and fed to the dogs. When I told some locals that in England, when someone drunk abuses the police, the officers are not allowed to touch them and still have to call the them ‘sir’, they thought I was telling a joke! They said in a similar situation here, you would be clubbed senseless and left in a prison until someone remembered why you were there. Then your relatives would hate you because they would have to sell their land to get you out, if they decided to. March on BARKING MAD Britain, the world enjoys the comedy you provide.
In England we have the ‘school run’, where huge 4x4’s struggle on the rough rocky roads of Penrith through areas known to have dangerous geranium pot plants waiting on every window sill, the sole aim being to get your child there safely. The equivalent in this country is ‘milking time’ and it’s nothing to do with the mothers! At about 5pm in every village the cows come home and the herds are massive; I counted over 300 in one. They don’t just come home in one big group, they slowly work their way over about an hour, visiting local gardens, school playing fields, churchyards, and just grazing and lazing all the way. If you’re lucky they’ll fertilize your garden or accidentally tread on that unwanted cat, they are very big animals indeed. So who are the rich folk who own these herds? Well this is the best part, each cow is owned by individual families, some owning just one, or others owning 3 or 4, and they all have the owner’s marker on. You pay to have your cow herded, grazed and milked and you get a share of the profits!
The older people in Romania preferred communist rule, everyone had a job, everyone had a house and everyone had fuel and food. Heating was provided to the village by a central boiler, fed through pipes into everyone’s homes. Now all houses have their own boilers and the poor can’t afford one and the wealthier can have a really good one. Now unemployment is high, not everyone has a home and certainly not everyone has food. I can see no better way than communist rule for the people here, but they are slowly drifting towards a capitalist system where the rich control the masses by owning the media, just like us. The perfect country with the perfect system doesn’t exist, because if it did it would be adopted everywhere. I’ve lost track of what point I was trying to make, but anyone fancy a revolution?
 Charles, the eldest son of the aptly named, ‘Dracula Family’ has bought a castle in Romania, not something that’s made the press in England, unless you know different? I am not a fan of that family but I do like his attitude to preserving historical sites and not allowing developers to pillage every property that comes on the market. The Romanians think it’s great and like that he loves their country so much, they say he walks around the village with a large group of friends and a horse. I didn’t have the right words to explain that the group of friends were heavily armed off duty SAS soldiers and the horse was called Camilla! I guess he’s found what I’ve found here, but struggle still to put into words. It’s something that was in England in the 60’s and definitely isn’t now, but it is for certain here in Romania today. Help me please, what is it?
News Flash…
Bunda, our guard dog has been sick, he just couldn’t take the amount of food that was given and I’m not sorry, greed can never be rewarded. I saw him lurching in the garden and every time he brought a bit up, he took a step backwards. The trail was long and the steps back were many, he can only learn from this experience. Bunda normally roams free and has many girlfriends in the village, but he’s chained to a tree while we are here so that he can serve another purpose. If anyone opens the garden gate he barks and he acts as the bin for anything that we don’t eat. Unlike an English dog, Bunda will eat absolutely anything, more like a ‘pig’ diet. Because he is chained to the tree, and wants to poo as far away from the tree as possible, but not in the same place as last time, a magic circle has evolved, about 2 yards out. The plants and flowers thrive on this circle, about a foot wide, and it’s a marker for the cats also who stay just far enough on the outside and sit and stare, as if laughing at Bunda’s inability to reach them. I think I’ll try another experiment later and add a large elasticised end to his chain, but then even though it might surprise the cats, I don’t want Bunda to return to the tree to fast as the elastic reaches it’s limit!
In England, we talk about ‘weeds’ with disgust, as if they are something that must be killed regularly at any cost, and we fill garden centres with stuff to do just that. Not in Romania! They cultivate the part of the garden where they want to grow vegetables, which everyone does, and the rest is left to go wild, full of beautiful flowers and different grasses where a mass of insects and other wildlife thrive. On these insects the birds feed so there are a huge amount of them in the gardens, just like there used to be in England. We are so busy growing rose bushes, marigolds and lobelia that we have lost touch with the real beauty and variety available to us in wild flowers. Our gardens are becoming sterile places, giant cat litter trays, where only slugs thrive and bird populations continue to decline; a shame don’t you think
There’s a train crossing between here and the next town, and until yesterday I had never seen a train and just assumed it was a disused track, as I couldn’t see a barrier. I thought that people slowed down because the track is slightly raised from the road, it never occurred to me that they might be looking for the train. Well yesterday I saw the train, not carrying passengers but some sort of goods. The crossing is also on a bend and behind a building, so in one direction you really can’t see the train coming, a sort of ‘chance’ thing with an acceptable risk as there aren’t many trains and they only travel at about 30mph so would probably just push you down the line a bit before they stopped.
 When communist rule was over, the Carpathian Forest was given back to the people, and every family owns a small piece that they use as they see fit. They have to get permission to chop down the trees for wood, but they can sell their ownership on. The buyers who give the best price are either conservation groups, such as Rain Forest Concern, or more than often the large companies who organise hunting for the wealthy. Apparently the main customers (60%) are rich USA folk, having exhausted their own large carnivore populations, just want to wipe out Wolves and Brown Bears here. These animals are deliberately set up and bated to certain areas so that the kill is always successful, making the hunters feel skilful in some way. European aristocracy account for most of the rest, including the English Dracula Family, but at least there are hunting seasons now, so there is hope that it will not become a complete wipe out.
I think I’ve worked out the name thing, and this is what I make of it. A younger person has to call me ‘Sencier’, but because I am also considered an older person (how sad!) I get called ‘Sencier Baji’; that’s what it sounds like; and when you reach ‘Baji’ status, you get to jump queues, are served first at the bar and get immediate attention everywhere you go. A person of similar age to me can call me ‘Daniel’, so Ryan has started calling me ‘Daniel Baji’ as a sort of compromise J Old people in England are regarded as a bloody inconvenience and a burden on society. Well move out here folks because your money is worth 3 times as much, the weather is nicer and you become a god. OK there’s poor health care, but when the time comes most of us want to die quickly, not kept ticking over, immobilised, incontinent, connected to a machine, staring out of the same window for 20 years!
 Just finished dinner tonight and the gas started to die off, the large cylinder in the cupboard beside the oven was empty. Not a problem, the owner Yossi was in the garden checking the damage from today’s wind, the temperature has dropped considerably. He popped a new cylinder in and then came the surprise. To check that the mounting was secure he lit a match, and as I ran out of the kitchen he put his face over the gas tap. There was a flash and a whooshing sound, and the absence of most of his eyebrows told him that the connection was not good. I can’t understand why he stood so close, but at least he doesn’t have to shave for a few days, and his nose hair was too long anyway. There are no smoke detectors in any house and I doubt that there is a fire engine within a hundred miles of here. Everything is made of wood, everyone smokes and I just don’t know why there are so few fire incidents, like the driving I think that luck is the only explanation.
Only 5 days left then a days travel to the Serbian border and on to Belgrade airport, a +10 hour drive. The Serbian border could be our biggest challenge as it moves us outside the EU for the first time and ‘bribes’ kick in big time. Apparently if they don’t like the look of you then can strip your entire vehicle down then you have to put it back together again! So by this time next week we will all be either in a Serbian prison or back home in England!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Expedition Romania week two

Week two…
The first of 2 funerals this week was held today, a 60 year-old man who was crushed when something fell from his lorry; I’m told everyone loved him. The next is a 36 year-old woman tomorrow, the blacksmith’s wife; so young, so much still to experience, so sad. The whole village turned out as the church bell started to toll its deepest bell, a few people started to appear from their homes and this steadily grew until the streets were full. The people here nearly all work on the land and you never see anyone who is not fairly scruffy and in well worn labouring clothes. Now a transformation, with all the men in black suits with white shirts and shiny shoes, the woman pristine in black dresses and headscarves. No florists in this town, it’s a skill that women are all brought up with and these home made wreaths of the forest looked distinctly Carpathian. I saw no children, I guess the older children look after the young; after all, a 12 year old here has to grow up fast. All the shops closed, no cars on the road, even the dogs seemed to know when to be quiet. I’m told that the widow will be watched and well taken care of by other women during her grief and if she had wanted to be alone as she left the church she would have needed an ejector seat, as a mass of females all wanted to hold onto her. A few tears came to my eye (I only seem to cry in the left one!), it was if I was watching a black and white film, but somehow part of it.
The sun is just rising now over the Carpathian Mountains, the light piercing through the trees, the mist rising from yesterdays rain like a big fluffy blanket. Most of the life and death happens during the night out there; you only have to listen to the sounds at night, very different to those of the day. Yesterday we went out as I drove the 4x4 in our first real off road adventure. We drove about 5 miles up into the wilderness, following Paul White and our tracker Laci in their vehicle. I haven’t had much off road experience but I was much the wiser after that trip. When the ground is wet, if you don’t stay in gear, the back can just slide away and you have to scan the ground ahead and decide speed, route and gears well in advance; very exciting knowing that a serious mistake could cost your life! We set 2 camera traps at a location in the high meadow which Laci assured us was a main ‘bear route’, and another on a ridge, which appeared to be a crossing point. We found the skull of a wild boar that Laci said had been eaten by Wolves. I was hoping he knew that for reasons other than he could still see them! A party of hunters watched us through binoculars from a meadow about 2 miles across the valley as we viewed them. They were there to kill exactly what we wanted to photograph and Laci looked very worried. These were nasty people who didn’t want any conservationists like us in the forest, it was their livelihood and they would do anything to keep it that way. You can understand that can’t you? Having destroyed 99% of our ancient woodlands, turning England into the baldest country in Europe, what right have we to harp on to a country like this about conservation? We didn’t see bears or wolves yesterday, but as I walked around with my camera in one hand and bear spray in the other, I wondered which hand I would lift first if something charged out of the nearest thicket? I hadn’t filled out a risk assessment so I was surely in grave danger!
As we all sat on a grass ridge that evening a few storks flew over, then a few more. They were flying very low to the ground, their log dangly legs trailing out behind like strings as they flapped their wings a few times, then glided until they needed to gain height again. After a short while there were hundreds swooping in from everywhere but all heading in the same direction, a ‘Pearl Harbour’ display above us. Then it was the turn of the maybugs, they all set off in the same half hour, just as the sun goes down. They are about the size of a large acorn and fly only slightly better. Because they have no site, they fly into everything, then get up and take off again, a bit like people walking home in Penrith on a Saturday night. As they gain height there’s less to bump into, but I can’t help wondering why evolution dealt them this cruel hand.
Coming down from the hills and very hungry, we passed through another small town. We spotted a sign that seemed to indicate Pizzas might be on sale. Surely not! We had just been talking of finding a fish & chip shop or a chinese takeaway around the corner and laughing at the dream, but could this be true? It was! It must have been the only sports bar in the mountains and had a large screen the size of a house, now showing the match between Ath Bilbao and Atl Madrid. Ryan and I ordered the medium pizza and so glad we did, we could hardly manage it. The others all went against the waitress’s advice as she made every sign she could think of to let them know the size of a large pizza. She gave up, and so did they at about the half way stage. You could have used one as a parasol for a pub table, but they only cost £5!
We are so tired at the end of every day, not just because we are out all the time walking, but the air seems so clean. Last night I felt like a cold beer, but I was already drunk with tiredness and that’s a far more pleasurable way to sleep.
I was filming by the roadside one day, just scenes of everyday life in the village. People talking, children playing and horses pulling carts, that sort of thing. At no time did anyone come up and ask me to stop because I was invading their privacy. At no time did anyone ask me to fill in a form to get permission to film a building. At no time did any adult suspect that I was only filming their children because I wanted to sexually assault them later! No, only in BARKING MAD Britain do we pay people to think up these ludicrous rules, and then like idiots we follow them. Our country has gone so far up its own bum that it’s disappeared! I’m going to break every media rule in the book from now on just to make a point; we can’t let this carry on. In the 60’s I carried a camera everywhere and photography was my hobby as it is now. As photographers we could photograph anything or anybody in public, and nobody felt so self important that they objected. Last year in Penrith, I was taking a photograph of an interestingly shaped fire escape. The owner of the house came out and asked what I was doing. I thought it obvious as I was holding a camera (not a welding torch) and pointing it at his fire escape! I told him this! He said it was his fire escape. I explained that I wasn’t removing it, just capturing an image of it. He said he would call the police if I didn’t go away, which I did. I had stolen the image of his fire escape without his knowledge and consent; I had just broken one of BARKING MAD Britain’s laughable laws.
During my filming in and around the village, I could see a guy walking towards me, shifting from side to side and occasionally falling over. Not unusual I thought, the streets are so pitted I walk in a similar way myself. But as he approached I realised he was very drunk and needed someone to talk to. After half an hour he was still talking and I was still listening, even though I had said to him several times in Romanian, “Nu inteleg” (“I don’t understand”). I was trying unsuccessfully to find the translation of “fuck off” on my phone when in his garbled speech I heard the words “Saddam Hussein”. Because I recognised this I repeated it… “Saddam Hussein?” I said. He was so delighted that he had said something that I understood that he shook my hand and kept saying it, over and over. I then, for some ridiculous reason said “Colonel Gadaffi” just to see if he understood that! He did, as I thought he might and the knock on effect has been hilarious since. Every time he sees me in the village he waves and shouts out “Saddam Hussein”, to which I wave and shout back “Colonel Gaddafi”! Two infamous, divisive and violently killed dictators meet in post communist Romania, acting as a tiny bridge of unity between two strangers.
There’s so much smoke coming out of the little chimney on the ‘sausage smoker’ next door, he must be doing a very large batch! I see him holding his breath and walking in through the patched up door, emerging several minutes later looking like a chimney sweep and gasping for air. He’s a really old guy, maybe over 85 but apparently he’s been doing it all his life. I think he’ll eventually die in that smoker, but what a way to go, along with your prize sausages.
When I go to the local shop they always laugh and nod politely. Same routine, I walk around looking for anything that I might recognise, almost looking for something ‘friendly’. No surprise then when I went in for breakfast this morning and came out with 3 twix bars. Very few of the packets or tins have pictures on, and the containers are not always as we have in the UK. For instance, yesterday I bought a ‘bag’ of milk! You have to pick up the item, judge it’s weight and then shake it; a bit like being blind I guess. Back to the ‘bag’ of milk, I just don’t see the logic! You know those little sachets of vinegar where you can’t open them and after a lot of pulling and tugging it explodes all over the place? Yes… I managed to do that with a litre of milk; it looked like a cow had exploded in the kitchen!
I met a Romanian shepherd earlier today, up to now a distant scary figure surrounded by nearly as many dogs as sheep. It was only because our guide was able to speak to him, saying something like, “please don’t let your dogs kill these English people, they only want to take photos”. The shepherds live in tiny huts on the hillsides and they are the roughest looking guys you have ever seen, they make a Cumbrian farmer look like Simon Templar. In 1000 years when women get equality in this country, they still won’t want this job! They have to be near their large flocks all the time, day and night, because if they weren’t there, the bears and wolves would have a banquet. The sheep flock always has a goat in it, which acts as the brain for the 500 or so sheep. The goat knows where to go and does so when the herder tells him; the sheep just follow. The dogs are not sheep dogs, as we know them in the Yorkshire Dales, they are not there to herd the sheep but to scare off anything that might harm them. So that the dogs can’t harm deer, they carry a small stick of wood that hangs from a chain around their neck, that way they can’t run too fast. Some of the older dogs though, soon learn that they can flick the stick up into their mouth, but then even if they catch up with the deer, they would have to drop the stick to attack, so it works well. This shepherd had seven dogs, and as soon as he gave a short simple command, the dogs were our best friends and just ignored us; not that you would want to stroke them!
After a long meeting the other night, where we all put our cards on the table and agreed to some basic rules, we go into our second week a much closer and happier team. All the bad stuff out of the way and everyone understanding how everyone else feels is a really good place to be. I think when I get back home; I’ll write a short blog called, ‘What really happened in Romania’. Then again, maybe what happens in Romania should stay in Romania?
Death rates from cancer are low here because you are far more likely to die on the road, even in an ambulance! That’s just my opinion, but the crosses and flowers at the roadside, more frequent than road signs, are testimony enough. My chance came the other night when Anna and her husband offered to take us to see some bears. I had to ignore that they were both smoking in the car, it was their country, but little did I know that by the end of the journey some kind of sedation, all be it tobacco, would have helped me. As I started to put my seat belt on, Anna said, “no, no, not in Romania, police no mind here”. I explained that I wasn’t worried about the police, I just didn’t want her to see the soles of my shoes as I launched through the windscreen at 80mph! As we flashed past the roadside graves, she assured me that in Romania everyone drove very carefully! Her husband avoided the large potholes as if he were a well-practiced slalom skier who had navigated the same run a thousand times. The random mad dogs that attacked the tyres (even at that speed) were his only distraction. I thought that by talking to him, he might have to think what I was saying and that would slow him down, but he was so polite that he would turn and look at me while I was talking, completely ignoring the road. We got there and back safely yes, but I think that luck played a huge part!
I’ve just witnessed the most incredible thing! I decided to do an experiment, because every time I have given a scrap of meat, cheese or bread to Bunda, our guard dog, he always asks for more. So I though, OK, you must reach a point when you’re full Bunda? I started to give him the left over’s of the lads’ pizzas’, after all, they had been there for 3 days and they probably wouldn’t miss them. He had no problem there, so then I started to feed him cheese and he ate a whole block, and loved it! I fed him a pint of yoghurt, 6 slices of bread, a tin of beans, and 2 twix bars and still he wasn’t full, he hadn’t even taken a drink of water! Next, I had a large piece of Bulgarian sausage and I chopped it into four, surely he must break soon? But then came the astonishing thing, he picked up the sausage, went into the long grass, dug a little hole, popped the sausage in it and covered it up! He did the same with the rest of the sausage in different places. Was he just saying the sausage was horrible or was he storing it? I wanted to find out, so I went back and got the last piece of cheese, because I know he loved that last time. Sure enough, off he went, buried it and came back to me for more. I didn’t know dogs did that, did you?
My Hungarian is coming on well and I know over 20 words now, which ranks me with a 4-month old child, but I’m cool with that. I have also been making a repeated mistake that seems to have confused the hell out of the locals. When I arrived I learnt to say hello (Ceeo) so I thought, but that actually means goodbye. You imagine passing someone in the street in Penrith, waving and saying “goodbye!” I now know why ‘Colonel Gadaffi’ was so pleased that I came to town, the pressure is off him for a while J they have a new village idiot!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Week One...

Week One
I love it here! It has a magic that unless you lived in the 50’s/60’s in England, you just wouldn’t understand. A time when communities were close and families mattered, when people didn’t have a lot but their values were high. In England now we have smooth roads, a national health service, and more than one car to every family. But we also have ‘risk assessments’, and a whole pile of meaningless paperwork that everyone in every job has to fill out relentlessly every day. Our children have lost the art of conversation because they don’t go out to play anymore, instead preferring to sit in their bedrooms taking in the constant sewage pumped into their heads from unlimited TV channels. We are a society that is virtually disease free, but we have a massive disease that we don’t even recognise. As I travel I hear the rest of the world laughing at us as we drown in our paperwork and petty society rules and regulations.
In Romania, if you get Prostate cancer, you will die, it’s just a matter of how quickly. But up to that point you will have lived a real life, not a virtual one. You’ll probably look at the magazines sometimes from countries like the USA and UK, and think that you are missing out on something, but you’re not. Society here is very strict, and people avoid misbehaving because they don’t want to bring shame on their families. So vandalism, being drunk in public, graffiti or acting like a twat is fairly rare to witness. All this when in England, the police have to continue calling a chav ‘sir’ as he spits at them while being arrested!
Being an older person has its merits here, they are not just bussed off to ‘Shady Pines, to sit in their own urine until they die. Families look after their old and they are well respected. I am allowed to call the woman who runs our accommodation ‘Evva’, because I am older, like her. The rest of my group have to call her by her surname, out of respect. I feel ‘important’ here in some way just because I am older, which is a really strange feeling, because in England I feel far, far less important, living in a society where older means not valued anymore.
Unfortunately the town here is dying, as the younger people head off to the wealthier parts of Europe, mainly to take on work that younger people in those countries now think is beneath them. In this small town you can earn as much as £100 a month if you are lucky, and your first home will cost you £40,000. By working an 80 hour week in the UK, often doing 2 jobs for a year, a couple can buy a house outright, but will more than often have their first child in the UK and settle there. So the priority for the youngsters here is to get out of town as soon as they can learn enough English.
Although we are in Romania, this is a Hungarian part of the country, which used to be in Hungary until 100 years ago. I can now say, yes, no, please, thank you, good morning, hello, goodbye and how much? Just by trying, people immediately like you! At the local shop, they start laughing the minute I walk in, because it’s never simple. After church on Sunday, I went in to get some salami and asked for it by pointing. It was pure bad luck that when she held up the sausage that I had asked for, it was slightly bell shaped at the end and about 8 inches long. As she held it upright in her clenched fist, we both blushed together and the other women in the shop all put their faces in their hands at the same time! I bought some milk that day, so I thought. Having made the tea, I tried to pour this milk into the cup, and out it came in one solid piece. Yoghurt I think! The villagers produce almost all their food and sell it either through the tiny shops dotted around or from their houses. What they don’t use, meat and veg, is preserved in salt then eaten during the winter when temperatures here drop to under -30c.
As I was washing my clothes this morning, Evva called to her husband Yossif to come and look. I didn’t know what they were saying but Yossif looked at me as if I was seriously letting the world male team down. He shook his head at me and then at Evva, mumbling what I can only guess to mean “no bloody chance”. Men and women still have clearly defined rolls here and I guess from a male point of view it’s a dream come true!
I got 68% in my latest assignment at the Uni! Found this out when I went on line last night for the first time. Paul White’s wife, Laura and her sister Melony guided me through logging in as we couldn’t get the English version up. It was good to get a blog posted while things were still fresh in my mind, and extremely interesting talking to two Romanian girls about their society and hopes for the future. They had both been to work in the UK and their English was very good. I still can’t identify this ‘thing’ that they have which is now dead in people of their age in the UK; I must try and then name it!
I’m staying in the village today, hoping to go out talking to people with Anna and her husband. Anna speaks good English and if I can’t get to talk to locals on camera then the back up will be to interview them. My main camera lens has developed a fault, and although it still works, it sounds like a food mixer when turned on and off. The others have gone to a local meadow, armed with enough bear spray to drown it if they don’t blind it. The animals are often seen there early in the morning, but they come for the food that is often left by people who want to attract them, either to photograph or sadly, just to kill.
I have my PSA test as soon as I return home, the first one in 6 months. 18 months in the clear if all goes well, and I really hope it does. Can’t wait to see Beverley and catch up on all the (big) news with the kids.

One week in…
One week yesterday since we left Carlisle, and what a contrast this morning to waking up in the 4x4 in Tesco’s car park at Dover! The others are up in the hills now checking out the camera traps set last night, and I’m sitting outside on a beautiful sunny morning having a pint of Yorkshire tea. “Ureegalt” (good morning) I just shouted to the man who cycled past, now that I can speak fluent Hungarian!
No sign of bears yet, though the lads came across a pile of fresh bear poo yesterday. They could tell it was from a bear because they walk as they crap, leaving an elongated trail, so they tell me. I’m waiting for Anna and her husband who say they can show me bears today, hopefully not in Bucharest zoo.
At 7.30 every morning the church bell rings and all the children start to file towards the school with their little back packs on. There are paths some of the way, but mainly just very heavily pot holed roads where cars and lorries speed past the horses and carts, causing a mini dust storm, as cyclists weave their way through. On either side of the road are barriers to stop you falling down the sheer drop to the stream below, but the barriers have been breached so many times that there are more gaps than barrier. There is always the possibility of a bear wandering into town and you see the occasional mad dog that wants to eat all the other smaller dogs, but cats are rare. I guess they have all been eaten! No lollypop lady here and if there were, she’d have to be armed and on roller blades. But in spite of this, all the kids get to school safely every day, without and risk assessment! Yes, that ridiculous UK only document that everyone in England still manages to take seriously!
I went to the shop this morning because I wanted a tape measure. If I can see what I want there’s not a problem, but many things in this shop are kept in drawers, all labelled in Hungarian. Sign language normally gets me everything, but you try asking for a tape measure by using your hands only. After she brought out a frozen salmon, a ball of string and some elastic bands, I gave up!
The man next door smokes sausages. That is, he has a large wood shed with a chimney at the side, and in there he hangs hundreds of different sausages before lighting the wood stove, which fills the shed and surrounding air with a lovely smelling aroma. It’s in full flow right now and no escaping the cloud, but it’s made all the local dogs go away for a while. I made the mistake of throwing one a big lump of salami on my first day, since then the word has been passed around and I am an instantly recognised figure in Odjula dog world, a bit like being Cheryl Cole in London.
The guide who is taking out the younger lads into the mountains next week is called Laci (Loxi) and he’s a legend. We met him the other night, a very quiet person but one who is totally with nature. He spends weeks by himself in the forest, taking no food, just surviving on what he can get from the vegetation and fungi. Apparently he moves with the speed of a mountain goat and the silence of a shadow, so I see some weight loss amongst our team before the end of the week. To successfully track and see the bears, you mustn’t have any strong scents on you, aftershave, deodorant etc. It’s best that you smell of the forest and don’t wash for a few days, but judging from the smell in our bedrooms I think we may have already achieved!
The National Geographic team stayed here for several weeks last year, filming locally, so it’s a sort of shrine for mere wildlife & media students like us. You can read their comments in the visitor’s book and they must have left a good impression because the locals have been very welcoming to us.
I have the radio on during the day. I’m not sure of the languages but fairly sure it’s a mix of Hungarian/Romanian. This is bliss because I can’t understand the dialogue yet get full enjoyment from the music. The younger lads will still put on the TV and stare into it, the pictures being enough to satisfy their addiction, though it is was funny watching a Rowan Atkinson film dubbed in Romanian. It’s nice listening to the radio crackling also, brings back memories before digital came along, but hey, give me digital every time.
Hungarian words so far…
Eegen Yes
Nam No
Keerem Please
Cursenum Thank you
Ceeo Hello
Vislot Goodbye
Ureegalt Good morning
Manyee? How much?
When I asked what ‘Goodnight’ was I was told that it depends whether you are in bed beside someone, in the same house, leaving the house, outside on the street, what age you are and what age they are plus other variations, so I’ll substitute that one with ‘goodbye’.
The currency is the ‘Lei’, and there are about 5 to the £. Shops in the village don’t have tills, just calculators that the women use, moving their fingers like bees wings and always doing it twice to reassure you. Women? Yes, because men don’t work in shops, it would be like washing clothes, cooking or ironing, and no guy wanting to stay part of society would cross that line. Oh I love this life J
Are there any gay people in the village? I don’t know J? I can’t see the obvious signs that the gay community portray in our country, and when I asked the question of a person who could speak English, I was told that it wasn’t really acceptable. So I suppose it is what it was like in England when I was a child; it went on behind closed doors, but nobody talked about it. Back then, anyone who was mentally ill, homosexual, incestuous or a paedophile, was neatly dumped into a group called ‘queers’ and all persecuted as one!
I walked to the local church yesterday; this village is ultra right wing catholic and it looks like most people like to be seen to go to church. It also seems that fear of looking bad in the eyes of the church is far more important than looking bad in the eyes of the law. Most people here have the same disgust for their government that we do in the UK; both democracies too, so how does that work? Surely if you think you are being governed by bandits and thieves you can just vote them out, but it doesn’t work that way in either country. Big business and the media controlled by the rich ensure that decent people never make it to the starting line, so you are only given a choice of bandits and thieves, or thieves and bandits on election-day.
They’ve just come back from checking the camera traps, not much luck this time, but plenty of days to go. Caught something up close sniffing the trap, but too close to focus, also caught the arse end of something but again, not sure what.
Heading out to a larger town at lunch-time to see if I can pick up any food that I recognise! I’d give anything for some cornflakes, some fish fingers or a glass of Merlot J Will blog again when I can, but right now everything going well.
Hi Beverley, sorry about your phone bill  xxxx
Hi Sasha, can’t wait to see you first week of July xxxx
Hi Luci, hope you’re on the up still girl xxxx
Hi Chantal, keep holding back  Q’s the word! Xxxx
Maria, Sofia, Kyle, are you out there?
Too good to be true, a clap of thunder, the heavens have opened and the washing I hung out an hour ago is getting an extra rinse as all the dogs in the area start barking with joy….