the skinflint philosopher

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


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You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs

It turns out Leo the campervan needs further work before it can take us overland back to the UK. The suspension problem we thought was fixed went kaput again on a trial run at the weekend. The garage mechanic shakes his head at us, citing either age or the perishing cold that has ruptured the rubber on a different part to what we just paid to get mended. We have two options, either sit and wait for a few weeks while the parts are sent for from either Germany or UK, or replace the suspension completely with a different system. Both are costly. Both are a blow to the finances. But if we wait here for option one, we will take a loss on ferry bookings.
“There is always option three”muses Digger in an Eeyore sort of mood, “We could sell Leo here for spares and repairs, and fly home instead”. Quick calculations on the back of an envelope reveal this is not a sensible option at all. Never mind the cost, we don’t want to give up on our adventures and plans for Greece, Italy and Spain. Tiddler sadly sticks out her bottom lip at the thought of leaving any of her precious and already minimalistic spectrum of toys behind in favour of only what can be crammed into an overhead locker on a plane. I don’t want to admit defeat, and am privately cosseting the beautiful blue enamel tins I had planned on carrying home. Digger seems to have temporarily forgotten the large heavy box containing his jigsaw machine that he has already informed me I am resting my feet on in the campervan footwell for the entire journey home.
Option two it is then, and we are now playing a waiting game to see if it can be fixed by Friday, so we can set off on the Monday as planned. Apart from the actual packing and loading up of the van, we are set to go. Tiddler finishes at the nursery on Friday. The wifi has been cancelled for the same day. We don’t want to postpone ourselves into a limbo that might stretch out for weeks.

In the meantime, we are saying goodbye to Bulgaria. I think of all the things I had planned to blog about, the bizarre dual shift school session system that changes halfway through the year, the coffee shop culture and the hookah pipes, the constant digging up of the roads, the wholesale perfume shops, the inability of Bulgarians to let you serve yourself with food resulting in a warm hospitality that threatens severe indigestion if not full-blown gluttony, the constant surprise that a toddler can speak a foreign language (and while we are at it, has she got enough warm clothes on!), the British ex-pats and their social media curiosities regarding life here, the telling off we receive by the bespectacled and slow moving postmistress because we have dared to receive a package from the UK with the sender address written in the unofficial wrong place, the from-pillar-to-post approach to try and get Tiddler her entitled Bulgarian citizenship (which we gave up on at this stage, lacking the approved paperwork), the warm soft breads and banitsas in the little outdoor cafe that constantly plays jazz to the pigeons, street dogs and patrons alike. These will all have to wait for another time.

Our last experiences here are the preparations for Easter. The supermarkets are full of cardboard stands selling ink pellets and sachets to make traditional Bulgarian dyed eggs, though there are plenty of made-in-China plastic chicks, rabbits and baskets that have crept on to the shelves as well.

 

Images from powerling.com and zikata.wordpress.com

From a midnight mass to the cracking of the eggs in the big egg fight (for the British, think of an egg-themed conker challenge to get how that works) Easter or ‘Great Day’ (Velikden) is a big deal here.

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Image above from BG Vestnik

Tiddler and I have a go at making the traditional dyed eggs (red coloured ones are the most important), though we poke a hole with a needle and blow ours first, when for prime egg fighting success they are usually hard-boiled. There is a little unexpected excitement when Tiddler decides to suck instead and ends up tasting her first egg nog. With the hard boiled versions, the surviving uncracked egg is declared the winner, and should in theory be kept until next Easter, although I’m not sure of the olfactory benefits of that, particularly through a long hot Bulgarian summer.

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We stuff ourselves with kozunak, the sweet Easter bread, and wait for Leo. I am not unaware of the irony and the inappropriate timing, as people across the globe are celebrating the resurrection and the victory over death, that we are somewhat preoccupied with the fate of a battered old van, albeit that it might be a renewal of sorts. We can only hope that Tiddler, Digger and I are fortunate enough to go forwards with grace, as the new and next steps in our lives continues to unfold.

 

 

 

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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
amen

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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