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2014/01
Friday 31st January, 2014
Category: 2014/01
Tags: snow

Despite the fresh snow, my sweet little car made a successful trip to Sofia and back yesterday.  The main roads of course were all clear, in stark contrast to the UK in snow, and I think this is probably due to more frequent snow ploughing and the colder drier atmosphere. In the UK all the gritting is often then just buried in snow which becomes very slippery slush, and add this to the fact that winter tyres are not compulsory and you have the resultant dangerous driving conditions. Here the snow plough turns the surface of the minor roads into a compact smooth layer of snow which is actually quite firm to drive on (with winter tyres of course). The major roads are ploughed and gritted, and for some reason completely clear of snow on the surface and hardly even look damp. 

When I got home, the fire which had been stoked up 8 hours previously was amazingly still glowing, and once I'd thrown some sticks on it was instantly blazing again. The house was beautifully warm still anyway and I had to reflect on how lucky I am to be able to walk back into such comfort, make a hot drink and sprawl on the chair by the fire to watch TV.  I do so love my home!

This morning there were tiny dots of snow swirling round in the air and moving so slowly it felt like I was inside a massive snow globe. (Cue the Twilight Zone music, because maybe I really AM inside a snow globe and I just don't know it!).  I ventured out (well wrapped against the minus 10 on the thermometre) and shovelled snow from the top part of the side lane so that I could get my car back down to the sanctuary of the garage. The snow is at least a foot deep now and I had visions of it all banking up against the front bumper if I just tried driving through it:

 (Wellies almost completely covered)

The temperatures are due to stay well below zero for at least a few more days, so the little car will have to wait a while to be cleaned up after her journey.  I've been neglecting my walking for a few days so headed out again today for an hour. I put my snow chains on my wellies (shoe ones, not the car ones) and was soon speeding along the paths.  This is the view across the sports field looking up towards the village:

Everywhere is very still and quiet, apart from the clanking of the snow plough in the distance.  Back home I couldn't resist finding a use for one of the icicles hanging from the downspout:

This is what happens if you don't wear sensible footwear in winter!

Tuesday 28th January, 2014
Category: 2014/01
Tags: snow car snow chains

There's been a lull in the snow today so it was a chance to dash out and restock the wood heap, clear the paths a bit better (they were given a quick shovelling on Monday morning at 5.30am when I remembered that the milkman would be coming in about four hours time. Yes you did read that correctly. I have to pay the milkman when he delivers the milk and so each Monday I make sure I'm up and ready by 8.30am and then wait for him to call. Because of the snow, I wanted to lounge in bed until an unholy hour, so clearing the snow on the steps in my pyjamas and leaving the empty milk bottle and his money behind the unlocked gate made perfect sense) and refill the bird food holders.

I also ummed and ahhed (how on earth do you spell those?) over getting the car out now and parking it on the flat road outside the house in readiness for an airport run on Thursday, or leave it in the cosiness of the garage until the day. The lane from the garage is fairly steep at the top and hasn't been touched by the snow plough, and there was the distinct possibility that my little car wouldn't cope with the climb. In the end I decided on a quick shopping trip (I've run out of honey loop cereals... disaster!!) and if the car climbed the hill easily I would return it to the garage when I got back.

I was thrilled to discover that the car engine started within a couple of seconds despite the cold temperatures which is unusual as she usually churns over for at least 15 before summoning the strength to fire up, so I gave her a quick pat on the steering wheel and proceeded to reverse out into the lane.  So far so good.  There were already some wheel tracks in the snow, and Stefan's van was further down the lane outside his garage, so I attempted to follow his path to the top.  We got to where there is a bit of a bump in the road (the equivalent of going up a very shallow kerb) and that's where we stopped.  The wheels spun, the car sashayed sexily from side to side, but going forward was a no no.  I tried setting off in second gear (dredging up my meagre  'how to drive in snow' knowledge) but the same result. I even let the car roll back to a more level spot in order to approach the bump at a faster speed, all to no avail.  So, it was time to test the shiny new snow chains.  Thankfully I'd already had a go at fitting them to the car when I bought them (out of mere curiosity) and with a reminder from the instruction sheet they were fitted fairly swiftly albeit with a fair amount of slithering around in my non-grip trainers.  Once the chains were fastened it was time to try them out, so gingerly I set off again and do you know they made such a difference! Hardly any slithering and although it took a bit of revving on the steepest part, the wheels gripped and we made it onto the flat road at the top.  I was half tempted to leave them on for the drive along the country lanes on the way to the highway but elected not to in case I damaged the tyres.  

I still think I will only drive in the snow when I really have to, but at least I now know that emergency escape is possible.  Once on the road through the villages it was all ploughed flat, though still covered in compacted snow.  I was very nervous of losing control so literally crawled along in second gear all the way (no wonder my car is knackered) and of course got tooted at my someone wanted to get past at a much higher rate of knots. By the time I returned from shopping I had a bit more snow-confidence at actually hit 3rd gear! The journey going took 30 minutes, coming back took 15.  So the car is now parked outside the house on the nice flat road, all snug under her waterproof cover ready for tomorrow's snow, and I have a cupboard overflowing with delicious cereals again.

Molly was very funny the other night. Usually she is happy to go out and spend most of the day playing in the snow and hunting the birds (maybe the snow helps Molly stay camouflaged better) but the other night when the temperature was at most minus 6 she stuck her nose out and then made a dash for the settee and literally crawled under one of the big cushions! I think she's getting spoiled with her cosy bed in front of the wood burner:

I must admit that although the temperature is low, the lack of wind and the dryness mean it doesn't feel so bad when you're out and about. Here are a couple of snaps I took whilst on a walk round the village yesterday:

 

 

 

Sunday 26th January, 2014
Category: 2014/01
Tags: car repairs snow keep fit DIY decorations

The car is back home, safe and sound! I went to pick it up on Wednesday morning and I must confess I am amazed at how different the clutch feels. You just raise the pedal a little bit and boom there's the biting point. I sincerely hope this is all the major work needed for this year as it's already bitten a huge chunk out of my budget, although next time I'm in the UK I might find out what I can anticipate having done next (timing chain? gaskets?) and buy a few spare parts in readiness to hopefully save a bob or two. Having paid the repair bill (330 levs for the labour - the parts had been paid for previously) I then decided to buy a bit of fruit and veg at the nearby market before heading home. Two reasons for this: Firstly I actually did need to stock up on these items, but secondly, and more importantly, I didn't want an audience as I kangerood down the road, so I wanted the neighbours who had given me a lift to the garage to be well out of sight first!  I must have been still reeling slightly from all the expense and high numbers involved because I asked the stunned market stall holder for 200 kilos of mandarins. Do you mean 2kg, he asked, at which point I broke into slightly hysterical laughter.

Proud to say I didn't stall the car once on the way home, and the next day I spent several hours washing, waxing and vacuuming my little Fiesta to make her look all shiny and new.

It was whilst vacuuming the car in the garage that my attention was drawn to the wooden door which had yet to be fitted (fitted to the garage, not to the car. Yes I have wooden seat release handles, no I do not yet need wooden doors). This was originally the front door to my house and was saved for using in the garage when I had the new double glazing installed last year. It's been propped up against the wall in the garage all this time and since the workmen seemed reluctant to tackle it I decided in a moment of madness to have a go myself.

After lifting the old frame into position it soon became apparent that it wouldn't be a simple matter of reattaching the door to this as the resulting gap was about 2cm too small for the door.  So some improvisation was called for.  I dismantled the frame (after a lot of hammering and bending of planks back and forth to free the sections from the huge nails) and began to screw one half of it to the garage. Once this was firmly in place I then began screwing the hinges back into the pre-drilled holes. I don't know if the wood has swollen a bit but it was very tight work getting the hinges in and they did look to be at a strange angle. No matter, I thought, they lined up with the bolts (sort of) and so began the impossible task of lifting the door into place on the hinges. Several problems with this, but the main one was that the door is so wide that I can just about get my arms stretched to hold it, but cannot at the same time see exactly where I'm manoeuvring it. After a few bouts of shuffling and swearing the door was lined up with the hinges but refused to fit into the spaces between them.  At this point I thought sod it, removed the top section of each hinge and fitted the door easily. So long as I resist the temptation to swing from the door it should be fine for now. The next time there are a couple of willing volunteers here, we can have a go at re-using the extra bits of hinge.  And here's the door in place:

                   

(Open door from inside the garage)                    (Closed door from outside)

Yes, well spotted those who can see a six inch gap at the top of the door! I could blag this off as strategic ventilation from potential car fumes or I could just admit that the hole in the garage is taller than the door. I shall whack a bit of fascia boarding across this at some point to pretty it up.  The gap on the left side of the frame was plugged with another chunk of wood which the door sits against nicely, and I even went so far as to gouge out a hole for the lock to fit into!

When the warmer weather comes, I'll put some sealer on all the exposed wood to protect it.  There's one little oddity about the door... I had to put it on upside down so that it would open the right way.  Maybe this will confuse burglars because you have to turn the key towards the lock to unlock the door!

 (Upside down door)

Despite gaps, partial hinges and upside-downity I have a working door which looks pretty good.  Another job jobbed!

You might have spotted a few flakes of snow in one of the door pictures.  The world has turned cold and white again these past couple of days and the temperatures are way down (it's 1pm now and the thermometre by the front door says minus 6) so no more shorts or sunbathing for a few days. It hasn't deterred me from my latest keep fit fad and that's to get into walking for about an hour a day.  I've just been following the lanes on the east side of the village and it makes for a very pleasant stroll as there's very little traffic. The route takes me up past a disused factory (I think a Dutch man bought it to try and produce bio fuel or something), past fields (where one of my neighbours is currently installing an electrified fence for his sheep), along the top near a house with a porch made of green and orange glass bricks, down by the residential block used by the school children during the week, and finishes down near the doctor's, with a bit of twisty turning in between. My ankle's still been a bit sore from falling over on the way to the pub last week (yes, I know people generally fall down on the way from the pub; I like to be different) so I've been strapping it up each day which has helped a lot. Maybe next month I might start extending the walks once or twice a week, say from here to Burya and back, in readiness for the sponsored event. Maybe.

And finally a note about Christmas decorations.  I've noticed here that there seems no compunction to have everything safely down by twelfth night.  Semi decorated Christmas trees can still be seen, the hair dressers had a window full of tinsel and baubles and Father Christmas still appears on TV ads. This reminded me of something I saw when living in Barnsley.  Across the street to me was a house rented by a Kosovan family (I think) and one Christmas they covered their front room window in snowy seasonal stencil pictures. The scenes were still there in February which struck me as very odd at the time but now less so. Perhaps next Christmas I shall defy bad luck and leave my tree up until January 7th! Ohhh such a rebel.

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