All the comforts of home.
* Television (actually legal and not-so-legal video feeds from all over the world)
* Radio (similar)
* A telephone (actually Skype)
* A toaster (with a broken timer so you have to stand and hold the bread down)
* A microwave (connected by an extension lead that's just begging me to trip over it)
* A kettle (a heating element plugged into the mains)
* A cooker (one ring and portable)
* A sound system (actually PC speakers and a collection of mp3s)
* A bed (matresses and duvet)
* A shower (...actually it is a shower...but the drain doesn't, um, drain)
I can keep in contact with most of my friends back home, by email or txt, or indeed skype, but for some reason I can't contact C. His phone doesn't answer and his txts bounce. He does have a knack of disappearing and making me worry about him, but I couldn't do anything about it even when we lived an hour's walk away.
Well, C, if you're reading this, you know my email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Get in touch, when you can.
Some more things Bulgaria has lots of: Car repair shops, FTP sites, and laws.
Montana is one of those towns that's built around two or three main roads. The road nearest me is called "March 31st Street", marking the date in 1971 when Bulgaria (somehow) gained independance after 500 years of Turkish rule.
At one end of the street is a supermarket and a signpost to the nearest town, called "Lom". At the other end, 20 minutes walk away, is another supermarket, some trendy wine bars, five banks that only businesses use, and the park with the statues of obscure local heroes. At the centre of which is a new discoteque, a new gymnasium, and an old fleamarket.
There are at least ten shops in between with the word "Avto" in the title - "Auto". One specialises in car paints, another in spare parts, but most are garages that repair cars that would be considered beyond repair in western Europe. One sells "nearly new" cars.
It may seem surprising that people who drive such clapped out old bangers should be so computer literate. Indeed, that the physical infrastructure of the internet across eastern Europe should be so much denser and more stable than even in America, while a wholly disproprtionate number of hackers and computer innovators should come from a place which is culturally backward in so many ways.
It's no mystery at all really. Germany got some of the best industry in the world by coming late to it, after other countries went through the painful process of early development. China is set to become a political giant partly because it started it's industrial revolution standing on the shoulders of an earlier giant. And it's a similar story here.
There are no end of laws against "misuse" of computers - hacking and innovation, which turn out to be much the same thing - just as there are countless laws about tax and travel, changed every few months. Almost no one understands them, and fewer obey them. It's an attitude that appeals to me, in case you can't tell.
Tomorrow I get to see an old country house. It's a bit remote, it's in need of repair, and I might be living there soon. The idea is that students might be less than impressed to know their teacher lives in the office next to the classroom, and there's a convenient place (fifteen miles away) which no one else wants.
Bulgaria (or at least Montana) has a very large number of very small shops. And an amazing number of these are "Apteka" - a distant cousin of the English "Apothecary". Yes - chemists, drugstores, pharmacies. There are even roadsigns pointing to them, so I can only suspect Bulgarians get ill quite a lot.
I've just managed to complete my first spoken transaction in an Apteka. Yay! I walked in, indicated I was Angliiski (English) and that I had a Glavo-boliye (headache).
The price was five Leva - at least it was to a gullible foreigner like me; I've no idea how much it would be to a native. One leva is roughly 2.5 pounds sterling, so ten leva is GBP4.
You'd expect to pay ten leva for a good resteraunt meal, or an item of luxury food like leg of lamb, or one day's worth normal eating.
A large loaf of bread, 20 teabags, a small block of cheese, 250 grams of butter, a packet of about 25 strips of bacon or a packet of chocolate biscuits would each cost between 1.5 and 2.5 leva.
Other things Montana has a lot of includes large outdoor bins, primary schools, and people walking in the road.
I saw two of the bins merrily blazing away, belching smoke which everyone ignored. They're why I had a headache. Them and the ancient broken-down cars making their own emissions.
Pretty much everyone owns a car but almost no one can afford a new one - and they mostly only drive them on the main roads, because the lesser roads are full of holes. The pavements are also full of holes, which means pedestrians on minor roads walk on the tarmac, stepping aside for the occasional car.
In winter it's different - with three feet of snow which is only cleared from the main roads, the lesser roads are abandoned by everyone.
The schools? Exactly why a town of 35,000 needs three good sized schools for children under ten, I don't know, but it does. The good news for me is: They learn basic English there.
Feelings. Not a reliable guide to action, but often a predictable one.
Saying goodbye to friends I'd already said goodbye to, and wondering why I was obliged to bother.
Making last minute arrangements and last minute changes in packing, being full of doubt over whether to take two pairs of jeans or three.
Trying to get some sleep in the hours before leaving, but being unable to and feeling annoyed at that.
More annoyance as my parents double check things I've already tripple checked, and impatience that I had to wait a few hours or a few minutes before going.
Optimism on the train to Gatwick airport, resignation at the silly ceremonies of "security checks", and apprehension that they might find some fault with my luggage.
Amazement upon looking out of the plane window that we were flying over endless snowcapped mountains.
Feeling hot and bored in the cramped plane seat...and the same heat and boredom on touchdown, mingled with a muted realisation that Bulgaria really does exist - it's not just a line on a map and an entry in Wikipedia.
Resignation as I sat through the two hour coach journey from the airport in Sofia to the school in Montana, comparing cultural notes with Tanya, the secretary, translator, teacher-meeter and the one who generally makes things work.
An odd sense of familarity on finding that, although Montana doesn't have a Lidl's, it has a Billa and an appropriately named Kaufland, which have much the same layout, lighting, products and overall feel as all ultracheap supermarkets everywhere.
Amusement at the somewhat, uh, basic facilities that I have. A matress, a microwave, a hot ring that fries my dinner incredibly slowly, and a computer that barely switches on. There's no kettle - there's an electrical element you plug into the mains and put in a cup of tapwater. Apparantly there's a toaster in one of the heaps, somewhere. On the other hand, there's a nice en-suite bathroom with shower.
And finally...choking back tears that won't quite come. What have I done? How did I get myself in this situation? What actually is this situation? What am I supposed to do?
On one level, I know exactly what I'm supposed to do.
Get this desktop computer working so I can post these words and keep in contact with everyone I'm suddenly missing in Britain. And to let them know I'm missing them, and how sorry I am I didn't take them seriously when they said they'd miss me.
Get familliar with the layout of this town, and pick up some basics of the language.
Fill out an inventory of things the school will need, especially books.
Advise on getting those new computers they want.
Come up with an outline for an English course to teach. Which in one sentence both sums up and obscures a vast amount of work.
I'm here for a month. That's the basic committment. Enough time to know whether I want to stay longer. One month - I can cope with that.
"Eat, drink and say only good words"
- Bulgarian saying
"If there are no wars there are no heroes."
- Bulgarian saying
"The way back is always shorter."
- Bulgarian saying
"The vinyard doesn't need prayer, it needs a hoe."
- Bulgarian saying
“Hungary is very similar to Bulgaria. I know they're different countries.”
- Kevin Keegan
An afternoon with C, browsing bookshops and drinking tea.
An early evening with Paul T, comparing future plans and drinking tea.
A late evening with parents, marking my departure with roast dinner. And a nice cup of tea.
A night with comrades, dissecting the American elections. No tea.
And in between all the goodbyes, some slightly frantic packing. With teabreaks.
Do you like my new cyrillic logo? I'm thinking I should have a logo appropriate for each country I end up in.
Right. Just off to catch a train at four in the morning. I'll be in touch. See you.
"You're gonna be a bad mothercrusher."
- Dialogue from "Robocop", as broadcast on British TV.
More delays, more stupid letters from bureaucrats, more computers to mend...and then mend again when they crashed after the first time. But there's a plane ticket with my name on it for Sofia. I leave Monday.
Or rather, I leave around 3am on what for most people is Sunday night, take a series of trains to Gatwick Airport, stand around for three hours, and spend another three hours getting cramp in the air.
And then take a two hour train journey to the school. Which is when the actual work starts.
The end of the world is nigh. Absolutely right nigh.
I was meant to meet C today, but something must have gone wrong - he hadn't been in contact and his phone seems to no longer exist. I'm a bit worried but there's not much I can do. In the meantime, I spent a happy 45 minutes in the shopping precinct, just in case he turned up.
Happy but puzzled by what was going on around me.
There was a red double decker buss draped with a message about a music festival, and next to that an off-white removals van belonging to the "Solent Dog Performance Team". Near the former a young man sang pop songs of the last fifty years (and some jazz standards) to backing tapes, flanked by a clown with a sockpuppet monkey and a half dozen people dressed for the office.
The style was "easy listening" - so easy as to be unlistenable. The musical equivalent of water that someone's boiled for a couple of months just to remove all troublesome flavour.
Outside the van mingled twenty middle aged men and women in identical blue track suits, half with dogs of various small breeds. Circling around were four cheerful types dressed as a highwayman and three peasants, handing out leaflets, all in whiteface, one spattered with stage blood. They seemed to know the dog owners, and I wondered whether there was an obscure connection between dog agility tests and...seventeenth century zombies. If that's what they were.
There were the usual youngsters in logoed jackets, collecting for one charity or another, all schooled to adopt identical faux-friendly attitudes. The manner is so ubiquitous and uniform now that it's ceased even to be an annoyance and become part of the background - it stopped being successful I'd say three years ago. One collector was teaching himself to whirl his empty clipboard on his index finger, like a fancy 1920s waiter with a tray of drinks.
A newspaper stand blurted today's slightly desperate local headline: Gran Gets Email Death Threat. And around it, groups of teenagers in low slung drainpipe jeans and antifascist badges shared ipods.
Standing in the middle of it all, glaring disapprovingly in the one direction with no people in it, a pretend-policewoman took notes furiously. "Special Officers" they're called - members of the public who get no training, no pay, no powers and no respect, but they do get a uniform that looks a bit like a police outfit, and a remit to stand around looking policey. Some of them misunderstand their role and try to "fight crime", before the relentless ridicule gets them housetrained,
This scene will be my last memory for a while of what Portsmouth grandly calls it's "city centre".
Anyway, I'm nearly gone.
“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me.”
- Hunter S Thompson
“The intermediate stage between socialism and capitalism is alcoholism”
- Norman Brenner
“Drunkenness is nothing but voluntary madness”
Saturday Morning: Train up to London and not very happy about being asked to do so. The boss of the school in Bulgaria wanted to meet again to (a) check that my certificates look genuine and (b) tell me a lot of things an email could have conveyed quicker.
I'm running out of cash, so spending GBP20 to do things that didn't really need doing wasn't something I did willingly. Plus the weather was freezing cold. And my mp3 player broke down. And I hadn't had enough sleep. And I'd cut my finger shaving (don't ask).
And then because I managed to get lost in central London.
Still, he did reimburse me, and did say he'd buy the textbooks I recommended.
Saturday Afternoon: Sleeping on the train home. Though before that I somehow found myself in the middle of a hundred Japanese schooolgirls on a daytrip. They were greatly impressed that I knew all about Hadu Gei.
Saturday Evening: Noshing good food and mocking bad TV - always a good combination.
Saturday Night: This is where things get a bit blurred. I remember bumping into a university friend in the pub, being introduced to his friend...and the latter French kissing me. At least twice. In a crowded pub full of people who took no notice at all. This is one thing I shall miss about Britain.
I was a little bit drunk. He challenged me to snog him...we snogged...and after a full thirty seconds he recoiled and exclaimed "Oh my God you're gay!". It seems he wasn't. A minute later we snogged again, with full tongues and groping hands. And then he bought me a drink...and went off to chat up some girls. Unsuccessfully.
And I got invited to drink lots of vodka at the home of another old friend. And after seven hours of vodka and philosophy (irreconcilable ethical imperatives, egalitarianism vs leadership, revolutionary theory and practice in an insufficiently analysed world) I finally staggered home.
Sunday Afternoon: Woke up with a hangover. Went back to sleep. Got woken up again by a call from someone for who the sentence "I've got a hangover" is an invitation to tell anecdotes about hangovers, and not a hint to please go away.
I have a French admirer.
(J'ai un admirateur français :-).)
One thing. The post is archived as "Le Nant en Persone". But what is a "Nant"? Is it good or bad?
Nevermind, pretty cool anyway. Less cool though is somehow getting a link from a blog of masturbation links.
Huh? Huh! Masturbation is for wankers. And fellatio sucks.
Others have found me by searching for:
crank that curry souce
pear shape shag
usb masterbation [hmmm...]
do boys masterbate with each other
the great burglar-catching machine
...and three hits for "2 Girls 1 Cup"!
Oh yes, I leave as soon as the plane ticket arrives. Which may even be tomorrow.
“They spoil every romance by trying to make it last forever.”
- Oscar Wilde
“Romance, like the rabbit at the dog track, is the elusive fake."
- Beverly Jones
“The love that lasts the longest is the love that is never returned.”
- William Somerset Maughan
Sunday: Babysitting while trying to fix a computer.
Monday: Being stood up,
Tuesday: Babysitting while assembling the new computer. And being stood up again later.
Many years ago, I used a DOS program called "Langanal" for some linguistics work. It simply takes a text file and produces a list of what words are used in it with what frequency. Well I found the program again and ran it on this here blog.
And the results: Out of 22152 different words, I've mentioned "Sex" 170 times, "Money" 125 times, "Police" 112 times, "Christmas" 99 times and used the word "deglamourised" once.
Here then are 100 words at the bottom of the list:
I did write several drafts of a post on a slightly more serious linguistics topic - phrasal verbs that usually occur in the passive voice, such as "Fed up". We say "I'm fed up (with him)", but not "He feeds me up".
However, perhaps fortunately, there's six different partial drafts of the post, and writing them has just served to make me more confused.
I'm off to London again on Saturday for "final arrangements" with the boss of the Bulgarian school. I might get to meet the other teacher too. Then on Monday (or possibly Tuesday) I catch a plane.
Before that, meet up with C on Friday (for a late valentine), and then tell my beloved jobcentre why their services are no longer required.
I've been offered another job out of the blue. Assistant Director of Studies for a school in Khartoum. Which, BTW, is a sharia city. Yes, that's what I thought.
A school in Sudan are so desperate for someone to more-or-less run the show, they're offering the post to someone with no experience - of teaching or admin.
No word on what happened to the previous ADOS, but the email mentioned a recent berevement.
The irony is, in Bulgaria I'd be effectively Director of Studies anyway - in the first month there'll be little or no teaching, but lots of designing the curriculum from scratch.
"Things get worse under pressure."
- Murphy's Law of Thermodynamics
There are things that annoy me. For instance:
* Having to wait two and a half hours for a shag.
* Having to wait outside, at night, in the cold, with nothing to do except walk around the block - and then do it again.
* The bloke, when he eventually turns up, being too stoned to shag.
...and as an extra added bonus:
* Being unable to summon up the energy to be extremely pissed off. Even when he suggests trying again the next night.
Anyway, it should be an eventful weekend. My last weekend in this sodding country for a while.
Saturday - straighten out flight and accommodation arrangement with the school in the morning, meet up with C in the afternoon for retail therapy and tea, and impose upon a comrade for evening meal and night in the pub.
Sunday - packing by day, babysitting in the evening...and a damn good night's sleep in preparation for Monday's fight.
Assuming of course that nothing goes wrong or gets delayed. Not that I'm being pessimistic. Just...experienced and cautious. Which is like pessimistic, but done by older people.
I missed the call from the school because...I overslept - the plan is to try again later.
I missed the meeting with C because...he overslept - the plan is to try again later.
There has been a ssmmaallll technical hitch at the school. The rooms rented to house teachers have been repossessed. It seems the owners were not scrupulously honest about their tax. The upshot of this is:
* All the furniture, equipment and paperwork there is now being hurridly relocated to the school's office.
* The temporary accommodation of myself and the lady teacher who's just been recruited will be...the office.
* It'll take a few days to kit the office out for 24/7 habitation, so...plans to go out there are being put back for a week. With the absolutely cast-in-stone signed-in-blood assurance that I will fly out on Sunday week. Or possibly Monday.
In other words:
"Hello my good friend .
How are you today? Hope all is well with you and your family? [...] if you do not remember me, you might have receive an email from me in the past regarding a multi-million-dollar business proposal which we never concluded.
I am using this opportunity to inform you about my success in getting the fund released and transferred to Trinidad and Tobago bank....
Due to your effort, sincerity, courage and trust worthiness You showed during the course of the transaction.I deemed it right to compensate you and show my gratitude to you with the sum of $1,200,000.00.
My dear friend I will like you to contact my SECRETARY IN BENIN [...] for the collection of your bank draft.
Thanks and God bless you and your family.
Hoping to hear from you.
- Mr Morris Ije, Financial Consultant
With some computers you know exactly what the problem is, and sometimes that means knowing exactly why you can't fix it.
With other computers you've got no idea what the problem is, because every test you run indicates there shouldn't be a problem. This is the more frustrating of the two.
There's a special subtype of the second category - computers that work perfectly...until quite suddenly and for no visible reason, they don't work at all. Occasionally they start working again, equally mysteriously, and they give you a look as if to say "What me? Dunno what you mean! I've always been exactly like this." This one is like dealing with humans.
I am spending this week staring at three computers - one of each type. And I am more than a little bit sick of doing it.
However, tonight I'm taking a break. Tonight will be spent drinking, gossiping, dissecting philosophical conundrums (conundra?) and eating large amounts of curry. With the owners of the computers,
Oh yes, I'm due to fly out to Bulgaria on Monday 11th. Possibly at four in the morning, if the cheapest flights happen to be then.
I'll be taking:
* Rincewind (this laptop)
* USB mouse, USB qwerty keyboard, USB midi keyboard, USB speakers, and USB memory sticks
* A small stack of DVDs containing software
* A small stack of DVDs containing, um, DVDs
* A large stack of DVDs containing music
* Some books on how to speak the insane language they have in Bulgaria
* Some books on how to teach the insane language we have in the UK
* A big bag of clothes.
And yes, they want me to fix up the computers in Bulgaria when I'm not teaching.
Last night I met a taxi driver who'd given up a career of computer maintenance to drive around the town for half as many hours for twice the pay. We spent a happy journey home comparing frustrations and hating Bill Gates.
Update the next morning: There was indeed too much good food, too much bad alcohol, and in the end too much deep sleep. I consider the night preliminary field research for life in Bulgaria.
Okay, more or less back on line. With an experimental new setup that was far too many eyestrain headaches in the making. And still a bit unreliable.
Quotes will be at the top again when I get my quotefile back. Yes, I left it round someone's house when fixing their computer.
It's my father's birthday. I'm not quite sure how old he is, but it's probably 72. We marked the occasion with a giant multiflavoured takeaway curry - and three hours later, we're all still immobile with indigestion.
I was supposed to meet up with MK for some amour de bouche, but he'd somehow managed to get sixteen pints of beer down his gorge, so was also incapacitated.
Here's a computer maintenence tip for anyone who, like me, has multiple operating systems on the same computer, on different partitions:
When defragmenting one partition's OS from inside another, delete the first OS's page file first. It's easily done, just like deleting any other file. That way, you won't waste time defragging the page file, and when it reappears when you boot up in the defragged OS, it'll be neat and unfragmented anyway.
And if those two paragraphs meant absolutely nothing to you, you computer could probably do with the attentions of someone like, well, me for instance.
Yes, I now have three versions of Windows XP running on this laptop. One is a third the size of a standard installation, with all the useless guff cleared out to make it run faster. One is stripped down even more, specialised for sound processing. And the third...is a standard installation, just in case the other's fall over later.
Eight days ago I asked the head of the Bulgarian language school when I could start, and he said "Definitely within the next fourteen days."
Yesterday I asked for an update and he said "When the apartment is vacant." So, I'm basically waiting on a tennant to move out, which may or may not be encouraging.
David has sent me a rather lovely book, all the way from across the pond. "Wired Michigan" is a compendium of all that's unexplained, ghostly, or just plain ideosyncratic around his home ground.
Sightings of strange animals, decidedly eccentric local folk, highly personalised architecture, rather a lot of ghosts and the occasional mass murderer.
So that's my bedtime reading - I'm thinking some of it would be good for my students, when the finally appear.
I bumped into Ralph today. Like seemingly everyone else in Britain, he's sick of the way the country's going and is casting around for some clearly identifiable cause - or failing that, someone to blame. And like a lot of people I've spoken to recently, would like to go somewhere else but can't.
His band - the nicely named "Retrobates" - should be recording soon, and I'll be interested to hear what they come up with.
Another technical tip:
If you're typing up a blog entry while your computer is doing something experimental and possibly dangerous in the background, especially if it's turning into a long and thought provoking essay...
...save it somewhere safe, or else you may find it vanishes when your computer crashes and loses all data, And then you'll have to bash your head against the wall for a bit, which no one wants.
I'm just saying.