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Thinking of Christmas

This week: The rain in Spain; Thinking of Christmas; Figgy pudding; A visit to the doctors; A surreal viewing of the car; Bottle brushes;

A quiet square in Stari Grad
A quiet square in Stari Grad

The rain in Spain…

never quite seems to reach us! But we did have a storm which blew across the Adriatic from Italy. It brought a welcome 12mm of rain and it has cooled the daytime temperatures.

The day before, we had the warmest day of the year, with the daily maximum approaching 37ºC . The village has experienced higher since I have lived here, but this was the warmest it had been this year. It was made more unpleasant by the high humidity.

Average temperatures
Average temperatures – the year so far

We should be past the hottest weeks and as the day length is shortening noticeably and the angle of the sun is dropping, so we approach autumn.

I have been harvesting grapes this week. They made some very acceptable fresh grape juice.

Grapes ready for harvest
Grapes ready for harvest

Thinking of Christmas

As the BREXIT debacle continues with the current UK Prime Minister telling everyone that the 31st October is the last day of United Kingdom EU membership, I am already thinking of Christmas. What do I absolutely have to get, before the border gates come down and the UK cuts it ties with the rest of the European Union?

No one knows what will happen, because after more than 40 years of membership, we are used to the seamless, customs less flow of goods and people. No one knows how we British Europeans will all be affected – there are probably over 1.3 million in total, mostly in western EU countries.

In the Balkans the Ministry of Interior posted figures showing there were just 450 here who held permanent residency. A tiny number in a small country..

There is actually nothing that I cannot do without, but there a perhaps a couple of things I may order before the barriers close. It does remind me of where I lived in Spain, where there was a branch of the UK ICELAND frozen foods supermarket.

Iceland Las Chafiras
Iceland Las Chafiras

For those who don’t know, ICELAND is a UK chain whose primary lines are frozen. A bit like a frozen Lidl store. There was and is a vary large expat UK population in Spain, so ICELAND has a 40′ freezer container delivered every week, so people could buy frozen Hovis bread (!!?) Kelloggs Cornflakes but in English not Spanish, and Mr Kiplings Bakewell Tarts.

Pop along to Mercadona, a local supermarket less the 200 meters away, and you could buy Kelloggs Cornflakes, but in Spanish boxes.

Mercadona Las Chafiras
Mercadona Las Chafiras

Granted there was no Hovis, but plenty of far superior, locally baked bread. I like an occasional Bakewell Tart or piece of Battenberg, but I wasn’t prepared to pay the Iceland Overseas price and can certainly live without them.

There is nothing that I crave from the UK. Of course, Picalilli Sauce is not on my local supermarket shelf, nor Heinz Baked Beans, but I improvise and make my own.

Last year I brought a couple of Terry’s Chocolate Oranges back from the UK as Christmas gifts for Cvjetko’s kids.

Terrys Chocolate Orange
Terrys Chocolate Orange

This week he was in Zagreb with his family, and when they went into a sweet shop, his youngest spied Chocolate Oranges on the top shelf.

They couldn’t leave without one. But since Terry’s closed their famous chocolate factory in York, all the range of chocolates have been manufactured in the Czech Republic and sent throughout Europe from there.

So things which you may think of as being quintessentially English, or British – and those terms mean different things, believe me – when you look at the packaging, the chances are they are not.

What does concern me is the fall in the value of £terling. The pound in my pension from the UK will only buy ⅔ of what it would when I first moved here.

All the forecasts, from the Bank of England downwards, are that the pound will go into free fall once the UK leaves the EU. The cost of living is still less here than the UK, but I may order and pay in £ounds for some hardware items, which are expensive here, but with the fall in the exchange rate, make them very reasonable in the UK, then get everything shipped out.

Figgy pudding

Continuing the Christmas theme – in August! – you may recall the line in the Christmas Carol, “Now bring us some figgy pudding..” . Well the figs are starting to ripen.

Ripening figs
Ripening figs

I was out early on Saturday to pick a few. I have already been eating them off the tree, but as the ripening process accelerates, it is a race to pick them ahead of birds, insects and rodents who all share my enjoyment of the fruit.

According to Wikipedia, there is a recipe in a 14th century cookery book, The Forme of Cury, for “Fygey” pudding, a dish served at Christmas. Figgy puddling seems to have used local ingredients, before currents, raisins and sultanas became commonly available.

Cury in the title is not a reference to the revered Indian spice, but is a Middle English corruption of the Middle French word, ‘Cuire’, meaning to cook.

Two things to note here. The Forme of Cury is not one, but a collection of sets of recipes, all written on Vellum, in the form of a scroll. These are not the sort of things which you would find in even your average 14th Century castle kitchen.

Here the great kitchen at Castle Bolton in Wensleydale comes to mind, where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned.

Castle Bolton, Wensleydale
Castle Bolton, Wensleydale

In the 14th century, anything smaller was unlikely to have had anyone in the kitchen capable of reading Middle English!

What it also suggests is that the great houses on England of this time, which often had walled gardens, would have had one or more common fig trees, Ficus carica. So fruit could have been brought direct from tree to table…

When I lived in the UK I had only ever tasted dry figs. Fresh, plump, juicy figs were not something you ever saw for sale in the greengrocer. I always thought that figs tasted a bit like sweetened cardboard.

It was only when I had a fig tree in my garden in Spain, that I tried fresh, pick-your-own figs. The difference was unbelievable. Suddenly a soft juicy fruit exploded with flavour as you bit into it.

I now have three varieties. The plain, but very acceptable Mediterranean Fig, Ficus carica, a Brown Turkey, and one of the new varieties, New Brunswick.

It is my very old common fig tree which produces the most fruit. Fortunately all the fruit do not ripen at once. This means that I can pick a reasonable amount over several days, spread across the three weeks that the fruit will be ready.

Brown Turkey
Brown Turkey

I like poached figs, but the task this next week will be to create some fig ice cream I think. The Figgy Pudding can wait for a few months…

A visit to the Doctors

I need to exchange my driving licence. I have only been trying for 15 months! Bureaucracy here gets in the way of everything.

To make the change at the police station, I need to have a medical certificate from the only Doctor on the island who issues such things. But to get his certificate, I need to get a certificate from my Doctor to say I have no ailments!

On Tuesday, I was at the local surgery when it opened to get the paperwork. There is no need for an appointment, you just walk in. I had to wait all of five minutes.

My Doctor is nice and friendly but said that as I have now received my permanent medical card, I have to officially register with the Health Authority so he is my doctor. That means another trip to Grad Hvar.

He checked my blood pressure. It was a little higher than normal at 120/80, but well within limits. I’m not taking any pills or potions, and the only medical appliance I use is prescription glasses.

He said he hadn’t seen me for a long time. I told him that “Doctors are for sick people”. He laughed and he issued my “good health” certificate anyway. I told him I would be back in five years for my next one…

I came away with seven pieces of paper, all stamped and signed, which I now have to take to the national health authority offices in Hvar. At the end of the month when he has returned from holiday, I still need to go and see the driving licence doctor for my police certificate.

A surreal viewing of the car

I have done some of my own marketing of my car this week. It has ‘For Sale’ in the windows! This is in addition to it being advertised on-line and on the local community noticeboards.

Left in plain sight
Left in plain sight

Someone from the neighbouring island of Brač wanted to look at it. But thereby hangs a problem. Inter island communication in this part of the Adriatic is poor. There are ferries from the islands, but they all go to Split. So it means a trip to Split, then catching another ferry or two to get where you want to go.

The gentleman who was interested in the car had his own answer. He hopped in his boat and motored across the Brač Channel to the Kabal peninsula, where Cvjetko and I drove, to a tiny little cove.

Cove on the Kabal peninsula
Cove on the Kabal peninsula

The prospective buyer duly arrived in in his boat, and then had a cursory look at the car. He said there was a lot of corrosion on the frame, the A/C didn’t work and there was an oil leak.

Cursory inspection
Cursory inspection

He made an offer which was €1,700 less than the asking price and wasn’t prepared to budge, so I declined. As Cvjetko said, “People from Brač are very hard nosed…..”

It was a good test of the 4×4 capability. The roads are unmade, rutted tracks. Just what my little 4×4 is made for. However having cleaned and polished it at the weekend, by the time we got there, it was covered in dust and looked like something out of the Paris-Dakar rally.

But parking the car in the Supermarket car park did arouse some interest, so I may yet be able to sell it without too much difficulty. But as it is running well, if it doesn’t sell, I will keep using it and keep advertising.

In the middle of the week I put it over an inspection pit. There is no bodywork corrosion.

Under the Ignis
Under the Ignis

The steel sections are fine, but some of the heavy engineering members, which for 14 years have been in line for every puddle in the road do have a normal surface coating.

A surface patina
A surface patina

But nothing more than you would expect. He clearly was “trying it on”!

Bottle brushes

I have been treated to a lovely display for the past two weeks by my Bottlebrush plant.


It is in a pot, waiting for a permanent home, once the building work is finished, but it seems to like being constrained.

Callistemon are Australian natives, but are widely grown in Mediterranean and sub-tropical climates. There are now cold hardy varieties available too.

The Australian National Herbarium has a useful page of information on the species.

Most have red or pink flowers, but there are some which are white. They can be grown from seed, but seed grown shrubs will take longer to flower.

Flowers are borne on the tips of new growth, so pruning as to be done at just the right time, otherwise you are removing your next flowers. They can be anywhere from one meter to six meters tall and respond well if pruned as a ‘standard’.

Bottlebrush tree
Bottlebrush tree. Photo: Santa Barbara Beautiful

Some of the “weeping” varieties look stunning as a focal point in a garden. I think I will let mine grow. NRC

2 Responses

  1. Richard Ellis

    Take photos of every aspect of the car and put them in a photo album. Place the photo album in the car and let the prospective buyer look at it. Heads off any “false claims.
    Enjoy your blogs and photos. Stay safe.

  2. Andy Obridge

    A tip for smokva, figs, you may know Norman. Of course best eaten fresh, but, dry out in the sun then freeze. Nice to nibble when they thaw out. Don’t lose taste.

    The question of how many Brits in Croatia is one I have often raised. Last figures I saw from MUP, the Police, was about 650, but, that was residents permits granted, not how many still here.
    The British Embassy have no idea. In fact the Ambassador, when I met him last year, was surprised when I gave him the figures I had. I only know of a small handful in the Split-Dalmacija area.
    A few keep popping their heads over the parapet on fb Groups but maybe more will if they see this blog?