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Dear John

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Dear John,
How are you, my dear chap? I was sorry that I could not invite you to come to Bulgaria this summer, as we were off to Zakynthos in Greece and then some friends of ours from Qatar were supposed to be coming. Anyway, Irena put her pretty foot down when I mentioned your name as well!

The good news is that next summer she is off to the Crimea again (probably early in July) and that will be for about a month or so. Therefore I am planning a Grand Reunion of the Gang of Three – except that actually it is going to be the Gang of Four, as there will be an important addition to the likes of Peter Adams, John Cann and Simon Hill. Tina is a very naughty little Jack Russell and we love her very much. Her main interests are food, eating, and finding something to scoff. In some ways, she does look a bit like dear Zoika. Her speciality is waking me up in the morning by walking on my face.
Last week we were staying at our country house in Kalotina. Irena and I went for a lovely walk besid…

Educaring

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The most important thing we’ve learned

As far as children are concerned

Is never, ever, ever let

Them near your television set.

In fact, just don’t install

The idiotic thing at all.


Well, that was one of my greatest heroes, Roald Dahl, in that modern classic, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But Dahl’s words of warning about the pernicious effect of the TV on young children’s minds seems quaintly dated, irrelevant and out of all proportion to the dangers for children that can be found on the Internet. And some of those dangers are not passive, like a television. They will coming looking for your son or daughter, 24/7. Yes, you can switch off your family’s TV, but how do you turn the Internet off?


Recently my school, St. George’s in Sofia, has had a blitz on Safeguarding. All of the staff have been doing online training with a company called Educare. Some of the courses have been pretty explicit and not exactly entertaining, with such topics as child pornography, cyber bullying, online groo…

Veliko Tina

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In many ways Veliko Tarnovo, also known as V.T., is a much nicer city than Sofia. It is smaller, less polluted and the traffic is nowhere near as bad as it is in the capital. Every year, we go and spend a week or so in our apartment in Veliko Tarnovo.  For I don't know how long, Irena and I have been saying, "When you retire, we will move in V.T. and that is where we will spend the winter, as it won't be much fun spending the winter in Kalotina." The main problem with this plan is that we have not retired yet. Well, I was retired for six months, but then I started working again and now we have started to put down roots in Sofia, not in V.T.
This trip to V.T. was rather different, as it was dominated by the presence of Tina. Yes, it was a lot of fun to have her delightful company, but she was also seriously ill. Several trips to the Vet were needed, along with quite a few injections and a course of antibiotics. First she was vomiting and had bad diarroheia, followed by …

Back in the UK

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I don’t really enjoy going back to England any more. Last year it was RTD’s memorial service and last month I went back to try to sort out what to do with my lump sum from the Teachers’ Pension Scheme. 

Well, why don’t I enjoy going back to my own country? First of all, I think that it is because I just do not belong there. Bulgaria is my home and therefore, more and more, I feel that my roots are in my adopted country. Bulgaria is “home” now. Secondly, there are the practical issues of going back, as I have no place of my own in the UK, no car, no nothing. 
My old friend Peter Adams was very hospitable, as usual, and we certainly enjoyed some splendid scoffing: lots of roast beef, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pud and all the trimmings! This was then followed up with the inevitable crumble and custard. Then we also had a good lunch with Peter’s mum (fish and chips), followed by a delicious Chinese meal. But food leads on to my next anti-British moan: the outrageous cost of just about every…

Stefan

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This has to be one of my saddest and most painful posts on my blog so far. Stefan has died. He was our first Bulgarian friend and in many ways our best. Irena and I got to know him soon after we bought our villa in Kalotina, about fifteen years ago, and we have stayed in contact with him and his wife Poly over the years we have been coming to Bulgaria.


Stefan had a great sense of humour, a wonderful laugh and a fund of silly jokes that showed an appreciation of the comic and ridiculous element in life. He would sometimes come out with that very old and dreadful Dick Emery catchphrase, "You are awful, but I like you!"

A widely-travelled businessman and diplomat, Stefan spoke French and Russian fluently. He loved the Russian language and he liked to sing old Russian songs, often with my wife Irena.  Like many of the older generation of Bulgarians, Stefan was pro-Russian and he could be pretty scathing about America and the USA's influence in the world. Lots of Bulgarians hav…

A Terrier called Tina

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We actually had another reason for going to Plovdiv. Yes, it was great to go on the excellent (and free) Walking Tour with Pavel, but there was an additional motive for visiting the city: our new doggie.


For a long time, Irena and I have been talking about getting another dog after our return from China and finally (finally!) we have done it and taken the plunge. At first Irena wanted a poodle, but poodles are few and far between in Bulgaria, as well as rather expensive. We did not want another Fox Terrier like our dear Zoika, so we settled for a Jack Russell. 
Her name is Tina and she is now two and a half months old. She is quite a stubborn young lady, with a lot of character. As you might expect, we have been trying to persuade her to leave her little messages outside, but so far we have not always been successful.

We lovediv Plovdiv

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Plovdiv is the second-biggest city in Bulgaria and, even though we have been coming here for fifteen years, we had never been to Plovdiv. It takes about two hours to drive there from Sofia. The road is pleasantly scenic and there are a lot fewer dupki than usual.

Regular readers of my blog will know that I am a fan of the free Sofia walking tour. Well, the Plovdiv-based version is equally good. We met Pavel, our loquacious and very knowledgeable guide, outside the city hall, next to the rather splendid fountain. The tour took about two hours and it covered the central parts of the city: the main square, the street that follows the layout of the Roman stadium, the Kapana district and the Old Town. On the way, we heard some of the many stories about Milo’s statue and yes, we did whisper in his ear and rub his knee.

As for architecture, there are plenty of charming and elegant buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but Plovdiv has the added advantage of some lovely merchan…