It’s official. This is “Den’s blog”. Steve’s October update never materialised and 3 months has passed without a word from the great man so it falls to me to stop the story unravelling at a loose end. These days, after 2+ months in the UK and 2+ months there to come, I’m feeling a bit disconnected from our Full Monte dream and somehow writing about it keeps it alive…
Here we are, a handful of days away from a fresh new year, so it’s time to round up the last quarter. I need to reflect before I can move forward. This is one several changes I’ve noticed about myself since living the UK life again. After 4 years of moving to the beat and pace of our own drum, with different values governing my daily patterns, stepping back into a relative ‘rat race’ highlighted some things about my character that felt different.
I’m not as ‘driven’ as I was 4 years when I last adopted the Working Girl disguise: I will ‘make do with less’ rather than ‘have more‘; me & my ego are not trying to prove anything, I don’t feel the need to compete and earning funds for Team FM is important but not paramount. Even in Montenegro, money makes the world go round, but over here sunshine (in all it’s forms…) comes a close second. I did an OPQ test as part of an interview process in October and found the feedback fascinating, especially with my Social Psychologist’s hat on (“What’s the impact of nature vs. nurture on personality traits? Discuss.”). I have a very rare profile because it’s so well balanced. Most folk have tendencies to extremes on some dimensions, thus giving the classic bell-shaped curve. Me, I’m flat-lining I’m so even. This wasn’t always the case. And during my regular check up at the ‘Well Woman Clinic’ the nurse was at pains to tell me how normal my blood pressure was (“It’s amazing, it’s just spot on!” ). Either I’ve got more chilled out or high blood pressue is way more prevalent now – both probably…
And what does a girl who owns a Montenegro campsite for a living need to sustain her ? Regular exercise; time in the great outdoors as much as possible, healthy eating, her own space & time. Time to stop & take a breath; time to read; time to consider the way of things and time to muse on what’s behind as well as anticipate what’s ahead.
I leave you to draw your own conclusions as to how my new shape fits into the holes available in the UK… Now on with the tale-telling!
******************* STEVO & THE GODS OF WATER ******************
A week after I left Monte it rained. Heavily. By the time it stopped and Steve got up to the campsite, this is what had happened:
Relentless rain + debris washed down & blocking drainage channels + a crazily swollen, stream building pressure = a deluge strong enough to raise the iron supports of the fence spanning the stream from their concrete footings and push the sheets of metal mesh & palm leaves over!
The fence had to be secured, if not for curious passers-by then definitely for roaming livestock which would damage trees and plants if they got access. This meant opening up the workshop door. Which meant moving the Fiesta (whose primary role these days is as a burglar deterrent parked tight up against the workshop doors). Which meant getting it started… Steve tightened the battery connectors and it revved, reliably into life. The headlights protested though, as the bonnet was slammed shut one of them popped its glass onto the driveway. Steve had to meticulously pick up all the lethal shards before attempting to move the car. He managed to unobstruct the workshop without punturing the Fiesta’s tyres. Only to find it swimming in water. It had to be completely emptied & dried out:
Then Steve noticed the hatches of 2 of the compost toilet chambers had popped off and the chambers were soaked. It’s unclear whether the weather had somehow forced the wooden covers off or whether pressure had built up inside the chambers through water ingress and pushed them off from the inside out but it did highlight the fact that the tap to the compost tea tank had been left shut. When Steve opened it he released a plume of water some 2 metres high!
Remarkably, the basement in the building seemed dry – all our hard work earlier in the year sealing all the holes where the reinforcing metal poked through seemed to have paid off.
But if he thought that indicated an end to the water dramas, he was wrong… Trying to take a picture of the damage by the stream with the camera on his phone, he stepped back lost his footing and dropped his phone in a puddle. It is now officially beyond repair.
The following day he noticed water dripping from the shower room ceiling when the safety valve on the hot water tank blew and flooded the top floor of the house & he wondered what he should do to appease the Gods of Water…
Meanwhile, back in the UK…
… life passed by in a blur of dog walks, various job-seeking activities and socialising with mates whenever possible. And I finally made it back to my spiritual home: Othona at Bradwell-on-Sea for the first time in over 7 years, with dear friend Ditsch. We were there for Fireworks Weekend and the weather was glorious. We walked on the beach and breathed deep and long. We sat in the chapel & wallowed in the peace there – I thought about my wedding day and wished Steve was there. We were reunited with old friends and made new ones. Within hours of arriving I was singing harmonies in rounds with a bunch of folk I barely knew and songs I’d never heard before. I took part in a yoga session and came out feeling taller and full of energy. We ate amazing food – healthy, homecooked and full of flavour. The evening was perfect for fireworks, clear & dark. We oohed and ahhed as the rockets soared and the sky was filled with sparkling colour. Then it was off to the beach for a huge bonfire, the burning of many Guys and hearty singing of all the good ole songs. Thanks be to Kate with her fiddle and her amazing capacity to get everyone singing along. It felt so good to be home and hard to leave again.
I had a happy reunion with an old buddy from my TK Maxx days. The intervening years seem to fall away when we’re together and we act as if we’re still 20 something, getting totally hammered. Haven’t been that wasted for a long time – the day after our session was a total write off but totally worth it. I made it up to Liverpool (a day late due to impassable hangover) to see Jess, Nick & Molly and made it in time for a lovely walk and Sunday lunch with Ray who by happy chance was visiting too.
Money was going out with nothing coming in. Mum’s old car, the trusty Nissan Micra, needed the CV joints replacing and 3 new tyres – costly but MOT’d for another year.
A day’s work came up in November helping Carrie with a workshop for a big client of hers. And then an offer of work from an unexpected source. Duncan, now Chief Exec of Who Cares? Scotland, invited me to facilitate an away-day event for him & his entire team at the beginning of December. It was just enough cash to justify me being adrift for 2 months plus a chance to visit Jess, Dunc, Islay & Mila on their home turf. The full implications of visiting Edinburgh at the beginning of December didn’t really dawn on me at the time. I said yes.
I was counting down until Steve’s arrival on 15th November. On the evening I drove to Gatwick Airport to pick him up, I got confirmation of a short-term contract with Save the Children UK starting 2nd week in December. We celebrated the happy reunion & the new job with fish & chips & a tipple or 2.
The next 3 weeks together flew by. We decorated John & Anita’s living room as a ‘thank you’ for putting up with us:
Here we are in the newly transformed living space (finished bar the curtains & these were put up before Steve left) scoffing a delicious Chinese feast on our last night all together at Mill House Farm:
Throughout our my time at MHF, John has kept us fed with delicious meals and tempting loaves, so here’s a photo of the master chef & baker in the kitchen doing what he loves best:
We made ourselves scarce at weekends to give the family some space and had great fun in Northampton with the Barnetts and then in Lavenham with at the Cock Inn, where Val & Gav gave us the usual warm welcome & we watched the last qualifying session of the F1 season, drunk real beer & cider and ate delicious homecooked food.
The following week I made an unscheduled trip to Clacton again to attend the funeral of school-friend Becky’s Mum, who had been suffering from Alzheimers for years. There wasn’t a dry eye at the Crematorium, where tributes from Becky and her sister Kate were read out. This was followed by a service at the Church just down the road from the family home, where I had spent so much time with my buddy as a teenager being hugged by Mrs Ransom and plied with peanut butter & lettuce sandwiches. It was a trip down memory lane for me & incredibly moving – Rita was a much-loved wife, mother, grandmother and teacher. I was so glad to be in the country and be able to support Becky.
Before we knew it our time together was nearly up and it was time for the last big family weekend in Wales. We left late so the journey on a Friday afternoon was horrendous. But ’twas all forgot when finally at Dawn’s lovely house, stuffed with risotto and endless cups of tea, warming our toes by the fire. We had a great evening and a slow wake up the next day. We pottered into the next town, did some shopping and had a pint in the Harbourmaster. Then we drove onto Llanilar to visit Steve’s parents. The following day was Gerry’s birthday and the birthday meal was a family Christmas dinner (on account of it being Devember and us being there!) with all the trimmings cooked, wonderfully as ever, by Pam. Dawn & Ruby joined us but so did Leon, Steve’s nephew, an unexpected surprise all the way from Winchester. It was a very happy day.
On Monday Steve & I made the big trek back down South and after big hugs & reassurance that in a couple of weeks we’d be back together in Monte, he dropped me off at Luton Airport where I flew to Edinburgh to begin my next adventure.
I arrived on a freezing cold evening but to a warm welcome from Duncan & Jess amidst the chaos that was their home at the time, with building works being completed on an extension. I spent the next morning with Jess, Islay and Mila on a nice big walk in the icy park before Duncan returned from his meeting and drove us up North. Not far out of Edinburgh it started snowing and didn’t stop. The last few miles to Aviemore were pretty hairy. It was totally surreal driving snow-bound roads with Duncan in Scotland when I’m used to seeing these guys in Montenegro in the sunshine!
The venue at Aviemore was great – better than we all expected I think. However the first night I was violently sick after eating the curried lentil soup. Dunc & Jess & Islay had suffered from a vomiting bug a few weeks before so I assumed it was a left-over germ I’d picked up but I did start to worry when Curried Lentil Soup was on the lunchtime menu the following day. Thankfully no-one else was ill and my bug, vile though it was, only lasted a few hours. I woke the next morning feeling a bit feeble but no longer sick.
The week with the gang from WC?S was challenging but rewarding. It was a bit like herding cats at times and it was hard enough to get Duncan to focus at times, never mind the 40+ others too but we got through it and achieved everything Duncan wanted to. Everyone left on a high, feeling inspired and full of hope for the future and Dunc & I were still talking to each other, which was Jess’ only stipluation about us working together! Thankfully the snow had stopped by Friday and the journey back to Edinburgh was fine.
We had a great weekend together notwithstanding my poor timing in relation to the building work . Highlights for me: getting to know Islay better; an awesome Indian feast & meeting their truly BONKERS friend, Ali; belting out Christmas carols in McEwan Hall in Edinburgh with 1000’s of others; a fabulous Sunday morning walk despite being up to my knees in mud at times and a day of culture & impromptu shopping with Jess. Dunc gave me his sister’s book to read and it was my constant companion for the week ahead. A cracking good read and funny to have Jess & Dunc mentioned in a book!
I flew back to Luton on Tuesday evening and got back to MHF in time to pack a bag for my 4 days in London before grabbing a few hours sleep. My first day at the new job went well and that evening I made my way to Walthamstow to move into the spare room at Ditsch & Vince’s place for that week as a trial run for staying in January. We all rubbed along fine, despite Vince being ill and Ditsch being knackered. The journey to Farringdon was really easy and pretty cheap (get me & my first ever Oyster Card!). I could get up just before 7am and be at my desk by just gone 8.00!
Truth be told I had been dreading those few days in London. I was nervous about the new job – full of self doubt about my value to the organisation and whether I could really pull this stuff off after 4 years out of the game. Any worries I had were allieviated when at the end of day 2 my boss expressed relief and delight in having me there and asked me to stay another month!
It was with great relief that I made it back to MHF on Friday evening. I had booked a massage & aromatherapy session as a treat to myself and Ruth, the amazing therapist did an awesome job at de-stressing me. The weekend was a blur of washing, packing and enjoying the last of my time with Applegarth-Ellingtons in 2012. And finally, thankfully it was Sunday evening, I was back in Monte and in Steve’s arms again.
Being home was wonderful: a super-excited Daisy, a warm fire, the luxury of space and our huge bed and the awesome views. We had a chilled week doing crosswords, catching up with friends and walks with Daisy along the beach. We spent a day at the campsite gardening and dealing with the urgent stuff (the leak in the basement, protecting citrus trees from the wind & cold weather sure to come) and it was great to get re-connected.
On the Winter Solstice we packed up our stuff & drove to Dobrota for our annual Maxi-sitting gig and prepared for Christmas. We had Katie & Tim over for dinner on Saturday night and had a fab evening – so good to be reunited with my buddy after 3 months! On Sunday we went for a big dog walk with all the gang who we’d be spending Christmas with – a chance for Carrie to meet one of our hosts, David, for the first time. Katie donned her wet suit and went for a swim whilst we marched around Plavi Horizonti with Carrie, David, Michelle, Tim and the 4 dogs: Daisy, Aoife, Louis & Mollie.
We did our usual Christmas jigsaw, a virgin puzzle this year (bought by Ditsch for Steve’s birthday) and really tough, despite only being 1000 pieces. The light at Danny’s house where we are now staying is appalling – few windows so little natural light and dim bulbs – so it was a mission, squinting at the pieces and trying to match the colours. But we did it, finally finishing it just as Christmas Eve turned into Christmas Day…
Christmas Day was bright & sunny and we made it over to Plavi Horizonti again in time for our traditional 11.00 (GMT) toast on the beach with Katie & Tim and a bottle of Port. The dogs raced about & wore themselves out and we had an energising stomp about. It was glorious!
We drove to Muo, scooping Carrie up en route and were greeted by Father & Mrs Christmas and delicious mulled wine:
The Christmas dinner was stupendous, as always… A smoked salmon & prawn starter, followed by turkey breast stuffed & draped with bacon and loads of veg including a delicious braised cabbage dish prepared by Katie to Delia’s recipe, all washed down with fizz.
We were bellied and had to have a break before tackling the Christmas pud. We had a lovely evening, slowly getting tipsy, opening pressies, playing games and stuffing our faces with Quality Street. We were all pretty sensible since us & the Monty B gang had an invite to lunch on Boxing Day at Ann & Richard’s house up above Kamenari which meant an early start. Despite it being a bit of a mission to get up there (a scary drive on a road that barely clings to the hillside as it winds it’s way ever up and then a 10 minute walk up an old Austro Hungarian path with lots of steps) it was an entertaining afternoon with some real characters and stacks of lovely food. The desserts were particuarly note-worthy: Maja’s chocolate & sour cherry trifle; Nadia’s walnut pie and pumpkin cake and Robin’s apple crumble.
Now we’re enjoying the last days of the year together, watching films, doing crosswords and walking dogs whenever the weather’s fine. I only have a week left here before I have to pack up & fly back to the UK so these are precious moments which will sustain me over the next 2 months separation from my home. I’m not particularly looking forward to the first couple of months of 2013 but I am looking forward to the freedom from financial worry that the money I earn will afford us…