the skinflint philosopher

Attempting to thrift our way to a better life, with a toddler in tow!


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Twins and time

Rather than my own middling quality photographic attempts, (as a good thrifter I am still using the camera on the old and battered iphone 4 that was given me second hand when a kind friend upgraded, and I was sat up at night feeding Tiddler and kept falling asleep and needed something portable to help keep me awake), I’ve been rootling about learning more about Digger’s side of the family.

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Pictured here in this wonderful image is Digger’s mother, now Tiddler’s Baba (grandmother). She takes centre stage, with her twin brother to the left, their older sister (now the Sofia Auntie D) on the right, and their cousin on the far left. Behind them, both so proudly smiling, are their grandparents, that is Tiddler’s great-great-grandparents. Digger does a spot of maths and estimates the picture was taken circa 1952.
The story goes that the Uncle P, the first born of the twins arrived in the night at home in the rural village. A local ‘midwife’ (i.e. somebody else’s baba) attended, delivered Uncle P but was concerned, and great-grandmother was put on the back of a karuca (каруца), and taken off on a bumpy road to get to the hospital in the town, some distance away. Without prenatal care and scans, they were unaware of a second baby, and our Baba was only born later, unexpectedly, and fortunately with more complex medical care and not on the back of the karuca. This is why the twins have ended up with different dates of birth, one day apart.

I wish this picture was in colour. The twins are wearing terlitsi (knitted slipper socks), and all of the children sport knitted socks and leggings. Great-great-grandmother’s heavy apron and skirt and headscarf can be seen, and the cousin’s skirt and cardigan look to be knitted or woven in a traditional design too. Great-great-grandfather wears a tall kaplak bear fur (or black lamb wool) hat, and what looks like an ex-military coat.
A photo below (iphone 4!) from a modern but traditional style fabric in use today may gives you a hint of the possible colour combinations, or take a look at some of the ornate embroidery and vintage clothing on this webpage. 

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The heavy duty wools are clearly to keep out the cold continental winter air. I’ve also discovered these children’s knickers/shorts tucked away, perhaps sentimentally,  with moth balls in the back of a cupboard in the apartment we are borrowing for our stay in Bulgaria. I ask Digger if they were his when he was little, but he admits to nothing.

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I don’t know about the level of insulation gained, but I imagine an individual wrapped in a pair of these bad boys, plus all the other layers on top, would not be moving anywhere very fast, and you would certainly need plenty of warning for a toddler toilet stop.

It was definitely a different world, nearly three quarters of a century ago, and makes me sit and think a little on Tiddler’s relationship with her grandparents, both the Bulgarian side and those in the Westcountry, and whether she will be looking at pictures of us all in decades to come, and what she will think of us, and what she will remember, and what stories she will have heard. Hopefully she won’t be thinking about our underwear.

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One hundred and forty years

Today, a mere few days after Holocaust memorial day, comes a memorial of a different kind. January 29th marks 140 years of the liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire in 1878, although Bulgaria did not gain it’s independence until 1908. The start of this serious level of resistance in Bulgaria began following the ‘April Uprising’ in 1876, the consequences of which led to an estimated thirty thousand Bulgarians being massacred by Ottoman troops, and their villages torched. While this number for some may pale into insignificance compared to the millions of deaths that January 27th commemorates, it is worth remembering as always, that where people strive to control, dominate, or persecute others, there are always victims and the generations that must come afterwards with an inherited identity and emotional awareness of their own personal, ethnic and national histories.

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Cartwheel and corn: Bulgaria photos 8

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The wheels are from a karuca (каруца) cart, a horse-pulled low vehicle still used commonly enough in Bulgaria for there to be necessary signs on certain larger roads.
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Many karuca are traditionally painted in intricate folk designs. Image below taken from here
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The modern karuca lives on in many forms. Image below from Varna, here.

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Speak softly and carry a big stick: Vasilovden

New Year (Vasilovden for the Bulgarians) for us has always been a bit of a non-event, and certainly since the arrival of Tiddler we are far more likely to all be fast asleep as the clock chimes. Having finally recovered from the over-eating at Christmas, we settle for a simple meal for New Years Eve dinner at the apartment, with Diado and Tiddler both equally impressed by Monte Carlo Circus live on Bulsatcom. A few rakias later Diado heads home, Tiddler snores, and Digger and I can’t sleep due to the constant noise outside. All day we have been slightly unnerved by firecrackers being set off. That word sounds a little tame for the equivalent of a car backfiring behind you which seems to the modus operandi for the whole community. These are not squibs, as I would call them, but full on mini-explosions. Bulgarians don’t seem to heed any sort of health and safety with such things, setting them off right next to the play park during the day, causing me heart palpations and a nervous disposition all afternoon. As the clock ticks nearer to midnight the booms and bangs increase in frequency, and culminate on midnight with an organised firework display in the town centre, and plenty of random and likely rakia fuelled unorganised shenanigans. From our apartment on the fourth floor of a crumbling 1980’s communist tenement block, we see shadowy figure throwing firecrackers and fireworks off the roofs of opposite blocks, or launching them from other balcony terraces, most of which fall down on to the cars and the lean-to garages below. Some hit the ground burning, and then shoot off in a horizontal direction. There is a constant boom and stutter of, for want of a slightly less inappropriate analogy, a sound akin to shelling and gunfire. It is a gigantic free-for-all. Tiddler snoozes on regardless.

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Digger insists his new years resolution is to cut of Tiddler’s hair. Shave it all off in fact is his actual wording. Now the back story to this is many Bulgarians believe shaving a baby’s hair in the first few months helps the hair to grow thicker and more healthily, and he had mentioned when I was pregnant that we should do the same, which I had semi-agreed with as babies are pretty much bald anyway. It’s all fluff. Then Tiddler arrived with thick dark hair, and I managed to persuade him there was no need. Since then, Tiddler’s hair has grown, and grown, and got sun bleached and beautiful, and we’ve reached the age of three years and four months without ever having it cut. It is now a sticking point. Digger thinks it is too tangled and effort to wash and dry. I, who actually do the de-tangling and the washing and the drying, don’t want to cut it. I can’t think of anything worse than the kind of ‘lego hair’ haircut I’ve seen children sporting. I like her to look a little wild.
Tiddler sides with Digger as it turns out she thinks if she shaves her hair short like him, she’ll be able to grow a beard too. Toddler logic. I garner facebook support for my cause, and Digger receives an unexpected phonecall from his cousin, not to wish happy new year, but to check he hasn’t gone completely bonkers. Crisis finally averted for the time being, but I know this is a niggling issue that I have to deal with soon. Am I wrong to delay the inevitable based on my own preference of enjoying her hair for a little longer?

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In the morning, Tiddler (hair intact) and I create our New Year’s survachka or survaknitsa to celebrate Bulgarian style in a manner that didn’t involve any gunpowder and firecrackers. No, this is the ‘child-friendly’ part of the Bulgarian traditions at this time of year, which simply involves hitting each other with a big stick instead.
The ancient custom is known as survakane/ сурвакане and requires a cornel-tree (dogwood) branch which is tied up into circles and decorated, often with popcorn and dried fruits. This can then be used to pat people on the back while singing a stanza in return for money of gifts. Tiddler cottoned on to this quick enough and managed to con Diado out of 10 lev and neighbours their chocolates before we managed to wrestle it out of her grasp.

Сурва, сурва година,
весела година,
зелен клас на нива,
червена ябълка в градина,
пълна къща с коприна,
живо-здраво догодина,
догодина, до амина

Surva Surva year,
Happy new year
bountiful harvest
many apples on the trees
a full house with silk
and health for years to come
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More professional examples of the decorated sticks can be found here and a guide to make your own is here.
We just about manage to get her also to pose for a photo of us in traditional embroidered shirts that were gifted to us for the new year. Folk costumes in Bulgarian are real beauties- plenty more information and images can be found here. Like with any folk tradition, each region has specific clothing colours, designs and shapes, and this might warrant a more detailed post at a later date when I have learnt a bit more to sound like I actually know what I am talking about.

Happy New Year from Tiddler, Digger and Thrifter. We wish to our readers the very best for 2018, and if life sometimes doesn’t work out as planned, and as our world seems at constant conflict and odds with each other, we ask you to speak softly, and hopefully no-one will need a big stick.

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