So, first for the good news… the garden. The silver lining in the dark cloud that was July, is that we’ve barely had to water the garden this month and we’ve had exceptional cropping from plants that usually struggle in the middle of summer.
Runner beans are loving the damp and overcast days – we’ve been picking a kilo+ per day and even having to take bags full back to the house to blanch and freeze as we can’t use them fast enough on site.
The pink ones (seed donated by Nik on his return from Armenia, I think?) are HUGE – this one alone over half a kilo in weight! (I know it doesn’t look very pink here but when you see it next to red toms in the flesh it really IS a funny colour!):
We’ve picked kilos and kilos of them this month – Tiger Toms and Cherry Toms cropping really well too – and they’re all yummy! Sweet and full of flavour, tho I think they could have been even more delicious with more sun to ripen them faster and we have suffered from ‘splitting’ skins from too much rain.
Lettuce has continued to grow, if not exactly ‘flourish’ – ambient temperature still mostly too hot – and we’ve been able to pick salad greens from the garden throughout July: cut & come again lettuce & wild rocket (too hot for iceberg now & all our cultivated rocket went to seed), young chard, silverbeet, sorrel & nasturtium leaves and colour provided by radish, wild violets & nasturtium flowers. Here’s a basket of our salad green with a nice sized courgette…
We’ve had some whopper courgettes this month, a few local beans and the odd beetroot, plenty of fresh chard, hot & crunchy Spring onions, even hotter red chillies and plenty of herbs: coriander continued to crop as I cut it back hard to stop it forming seeds; basil finally started to flourish as temperatures climbed in July; parsley, mint & chives are all growing well with only the dill a little too delicate to survive the heat…
The tyre wall is looking fabulous: Cosmos, Petunias, Zinnia, Lobelia, Nicotiana, Marigolds and Sunflowers now dominate – with the painted rubber barely visible at all. Surprisingly the star of the show last year – Snapdragons – haven’t really come to much this year. It may have been too wet for them and I think the self-sown Nicotiana has overshadowed them somewhat.
Flowers, shrubs, trees and squashes still flourish in the orchard. Gazania & Wild Violets line the edges; Geraniums tower over them; Petunias, Snapdragons & Marigolds provide bursts of colour throughout and over it all snake the tendrils of the pumpkins and butternut squash. Duncan’s Bourgainvillea continues to flourish, despite getting the top snapped off by intruding dogs. But the Clematis he gifted us, which looked pretty sickly, is hanging on by a stick and a couple of leaves…
Baking & Making
The focus this month has been using and processing all the produce from the garden. Most meals have contained runner beans & tomatoes in some form or other! I’ve canned a few tomatoes – peeled the skins and reduced the chopped flesh down to make a passata and roasted cherry toms with garlic to be a rich, sweet vegetable addition to stews and risottos.
Steve has been sewing again and made another gazebo cover for the frame over the new platform.
Feelings & Musings
This has been a difficult, stressful month. The weather has been awful for July and it’s been challenging operating a campsite in such conditions. We’ve had cloud, thunder, lightning and rain in abundance – at times it has been positively chilly… in JULY???!!! The campsite has looked and felt blue… blue tarpaulins cover the various sofas and outside living spaces more often than not, the blue tarp to stop water ingress through the balustrade in the kitchen is almost always up and blue bottle tops on the plastic bottle windows close the kitchen in.
I could waste my time & many, many words moaning about the weather. I won’t. Here are the facts about July:
- We’ve had very few days without rain – be it a short, light shower or a deluge
- We’ve had far fewer guests than last year and more cancellations & no shows – people just don’t seem to be camping in Montenegro
- 9 of the guests that visited in July were repeat customers
- Most of the guests that have visited have been great people, understanding and supportive and we’ve already had some fabulous views on Trip Advisor and Camping Info
- We’ve spent many hours this month covering sofas up, collecting cushions from chairs, bringing in hammocks and throwing tarps over tents
- The bottle windows and rain defences have been in place more often than not
- We’ve had several hot water crises, when due to the lack of sun the water temperature has dropped to unheard of low temperatures – showers have been described (kindly) by our guest as ‘refreshing’ and we’ve had to boil kettles to wash up
- We’ve barely had to water the garden at all, in fact our problems relate to too much water – the compost tea tank still has to be emptied and used and yet nothing needs watering!
- Our water tank still has a ridiculous amount of water in it since we’ve had fewer guests, using less water
We are not alone in experiencing low numbers of visitors – everyone we know with an apartment to rent or a restaurant are complaining. Was it the World Cup that kept people at home in front of the TV? Was it the floods in the region that led tourists to believe that Montenegro was also affected and therefore best avoided? Is it that there’s just less money around and people are going to the dead cert sunny places for cheap package holidays rather than ‘taking a risk’ and exploring Montenegro? Who knows…
Inevitably the situation has worried us both and made us grumpy with each other. I spent too long sitting in an awkward position the night of the Full Moon non-party and triggered problems with my back so I have been in pain again. I went immediately to Dr Delic for some relief and had 3 sessions of acupuncture and some manipulation before I felt fit enough to deal with the ongoing problem myself (well, with the help of my personal masseur, Stevo…). I have refrained from sitting too much, lying down or standing where possible – although driving to Tivat and back for work has been tedious and painful.
We love our caravan more than ever – it’s become our haven, a place to retreat to when we can’t bear to look at the faces of bedraggled guests anymore! It hasn’t leaked and the LED lights are so low voltage that even the little sun we have had at times keeps them charged up so we always have light to do a crossword by as we drown our sorrows in cups of steaming tea.
The good thing about the awfulness of July is that it has forced us into having some good conversations about how to change things for the better in the future. We’re re-evaluating our tent hire proposition, our charging structure, the meals we provide, our volunteer programme – the whole lot.
I am feeling worn down by the whole situation now. We waited eagerly for June to come when May was a washout and then for July when soggyness continued in June and now we dare not even hope for good things in August as the potential disappointment is too crushing… The sooner this season is behind us, the better. I’m finding it hard to juggle being a professional training consultant and coach with being chief cook ad bottle-washer at the campsite and I know that my focus should be on the work that gives me the most income, more months of the year…
Of course, on the sunny days, with wonderful guests around us all raving about the beauty & peace of the place we feel proud and happy and there’s nowhere we’d rather be. We have to hang onto those good moments and continue to count our blessings. A run of bad luck weather-wise was always inevitable and we can turn things around by saying we’ve been incredibly lucky that this is the first summer we’ve experienced such difficulties. We have our health, we have each other and we have an amazing piece of paradise – soggy or not!
It could have been worse – at least we’ve not been completely bereft of guests! Here’s proof that we did get a bit busy towards the end of July…
I had enjoyed Alexander McCall Smith’s ‘The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency’ series and was looking forward to his novel set in Scotland. I realised once I started reading ‘Love Over Scotland’ that it was the 3rd book in the ’44 Scotland Street’ series but decided to plough on anyway.
It was easy to read and I enjoyed some of the characters – particularly Bertie and Cyril the dog – but overall the book did not really ‘do it’ for me. It seemed very disjointed, following Domenica in her far flung quest to interview pirates alongside Edinburgh tales, with a slight detour to Paris – and maybe I was at a disadvantage in not having read books 1 & 2. There was a smug, moralistic tone to the writing which irritated me and all the stories seemed to be very simplistically about goodies and baddies. It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what jarred with me and why I simply finished the book and moved straight on, not giving it another thought but I think it’s something to do with depth. It all felt very shallow to me – the characters were not fully formed enough for me to care about them (again – due to this being book no. 3???) and everything was too easy and superficial – nothing that made me really think or feel anything of import.
Choosing Hari Kunzru’s ‘The Impressionist’ was a deliberate move towards depth and beautiful writing and I wasn’t disappointed.
It’s a marvellous book that had me enraptured as the tales wound across India, over to England, finally to Africa and yet all the time ever-inwards. The central character is fascinating and I ached for him and fretted over his next moves, whilst never really liking him. Cleverly, Kunzru has created a complex and fascinating character who is never outright awful or so wonderful either and when one reflects, one realises that Pran (or whoever he is!) doesn’t like himself and somehow you become so much part of who he is that the reader doesn’t either… Hard to describe but I would recommend you read this book to try and grasp what I’m burbling about.
What I especially loved about the writing was Kunzru’s ability to place Indian names and other difficult terms & labels in sentences in such a way that you can estimate a reasonable definition of the word and then he goes on to describe them more fully anyway & demystify. It enabled me to read the book reasonably uninterrupted (no need for constant referral to the dictionary) whilst still embracing a host of new exotic words. Elucidating but neither patronising or overly intellectual.
The book is fantastic but plausible too – it gallops on wild adventures whilst simultaneously dealing with the ordinary & mundane and somehow making one reassess those everyday details for their greater significance. And the pace is perfect – I never felt bored, the writing was never too slow or too intricate but it always felt important… every sentence, beautifully crafted, mattered. And just as I was longing for our hero to express himself ‘as a man’, along comes the perfect love interest. As a whole being, Star is tantalisingly out of reach – so apt. The strangest thing about this book is that I’ve no idea where it came from (it seemed to have been donated mysteriously by a guest – usually people are at pains to share the books they take and leave…) but I’m delighted this gem was gifted to us and I want to read more Kunzru.
And now for something completely different! ‘The Edible Woman’ by Margaret Attwood – to be reviewed next month…
Bad weather and general lack of enthusiasm this month meant we didn’t achieve too much. The ongoing stone wall project did move on a significant step though, thanks to Steve and Silas & Charley – 2 young lads from the UK (a friend’s son and his mate) who joined us for 2 weeks to get a bit of work experience on their CV and have a Montenegrin adventure.
There were piles of cut bushes and spiky shrubs that had been strimmed and left on the top plot, which the lads raked into piles and lugged down to the main fire site for burning. They also did a fine job digging a drainage channel on the top plot, shovelling gravel into it & burying a drainage pipe with more gravel and stones. And they amassed a decent pile of rocks for the next phase of the stone wall. They also tried their hand at pointing the bin store wall that Steve was laying using local bricks and cement.
Julie, from California but living in Spain for the past few years, joined us a volunteer at the same time as the lads. She was super chilled – really easy to be around and was a fabulous help looking after the site for us for a few days and nights here and there (and quietly mothering the lads!). But her biggest contribution was moving along the mosaic projects. She did the mosaic around the chess board table, which Steve then grouted:
And she all but finished covering the wall of the compost tea tank with a beautiful mosaic design (helped by some of our guests, notably Alix) with just a small corner and the grouting yet to be done. You have to see it in the flesh to appreciate it’s beauty!
Thankfully my work as a training consultant has taken off this month. It has meant a bit of to-ing and fro-ing to Tivat for meetings and having to spend time at the house writing proposals and sending files, but I have secured 3 more coaching programmes which will give me work through til November and myself & the HR Manager are planning a whole series of workshops in the autumn, which is great news for our future here.
Dear friends, Mick & Jan, came to stay at our house for 2 weeks in July. The night they arrived coincided with a Full Moon and the lads and Julie arriving so we organised a party but predictably it rained non-stop the preceding day and it was still too soggy on the Saturday to risk a full scale event. We still had an enjoyable evening though – Nik & Jen joined us too and we had some nice guests on site who appreciated the meal and the bonfire afterwards. Moon shadows fell as music and the sound of old mates catching up and new people getting acquainted filled the air.
A few nights later we left the campsite in Julie’s capable hands and drove to Budva with Mick & Jan to see Jamiroquai play at Montenegro’s first Seadance Festival. The less said about the drive there and the police incompetence in marshalling the traffic, the better – suffice to say we finally got into the festival at 23.00 having left at 18.00. We bumbled about in the gloom and mud (it wasn’t well lit and it had been raining in the lead up, though thankfully dry on the night) trying to find the various stages and managed to bump into a few buddies. We got in position in front of the main stage reasonably early to see Jay K and his amazing band and didn’t stop moving from the minute they came on to the moment they left. The sound was brilliant – the musicians were so accomplished and SO tight as a band and despite his underwhelming hat (we were hoping for something huge and exotic) the main man was awesome. We wobbled out of there, ears ringing, at 2.00 and Steve and I finally got back to the campsite around 4.30. It was gorgeous to be up at that time in the morning and we relished the peace and the beauty – sipping our tea and watching the world wake up until we finally had to crash out for a few hours at 5.00.
I decided against having a party for my birthday this year. We’ve been pretty disillusioned with every event we’ve planned recently being rained off so didn’t want to risk another disaster and time off site with friends was really how I wanted to spend my day. We finally got away from the campsite in the late afternoon and had an hour with our local mates at our favourite beach bar in Denovici, sipping cocktails. Matt & Amy phoned me from the US to wish me happy birthday whilst we were relaxing there, as did Nik, on a gig in Macedonia. Here’s the cutest member of the gang – Alena & Ched’s daughter little Ogi with Uncle Blazo and Tetka Maja…
Then we drove to our house in Topla where Mick & Jan had chilled fizz to celebrate the event. I fitted in a Skype call with my parents and then we took a cab into town to a restaurant we’d never visited before but where Mick had enjoyed steak a few nights before. The steak was HUGE and scrummy and the red wine and conversation flowed. We took a stroll afterwards to Café DoDo, our favourite spot for people-watching and ice-cream eating and I had my usual scoops of chocolate and lemon.
We took a cab back to the house and continued to drink… Mick had bought us a bottle of Port and Steve had a numbered bottle of Midleton’s Whiskey he’d been waiting to share with someone so the boys piled into the Single Malt and I took a big dent out of the Port. We chatted and laughed and drank and nibbled until 4.00 when we finally crashed out.
The next morning was bright & sunny and we’d all been invited onto the Monty B as a birthday treat from Katie & Tim. Nursing mild hangovers (we really did deserve worse ones!) we made our way to Donja Lastva where Monty B was waiting. Tim came and got us and Jen, who also joined us for the day and ferried us to the ketch in their new rib where Louis and Mollie were waiting with their birthday garlands on. Laura & Tony and the kids also joined us in the Prawn Cracker and we all motored over to Sveti Marko to our usual anchorage. We sipped chilled fizz, had delicious food and did lots of swimming and lounging about. It was a fabulous, relaxing day and I felt utterly spoilt as my birthday weekend came to a close.
The birthday fun didn’t stop there tho! The Herceg Novi girlies – Hayley, Bernie, Jen, Nadia, Liset, Maja, Karen, Lela and Johanna – organised a BBQ at Hayley’s the Thursday after my birthday. Karen’s hubby took us up to Hayley’s and we got a cab back so we could have a few lemonades! The food was dee-lish and Jen had donated her precious bottle of Pimms for the occasion. Bernie made me a fabulous gluten-free chocolate cake which was utterly scrummy and I managed to eek it out for another week having a small sliver every other day! The girls clubbed together and got me a gift token at a local beauty salon so I’m looking forward to pampering myself at the end of the season.
In amongst all the grey days and stressful times we have had some fun times with our guests, who have all been amazing – interesting people and fabulous company. Mah Jongg evening with Bob & Tequila, an evening playing dice with Ian & Alix and other guests and a lovely evening on the sofas with a bunch of great folk from Belgium, the US, the UK and Oz are a few that stick in my mind…
The weather has been exceptional. In the massive storm we had in the last few days of July, nearly 20 cms fell in a few hours. There were waterfalls around the site and the basement leaked. We almost never have water in the stream at this time of year and certainly never hear the sound of running water – but this is not a ‘normal’ month. At least we hope not or else our campsite-running days may be numbered and we’ll switch to selling umbrellas…
Moving onto to cheerier things… I saw an Golden Oriole pretty close as it flew past the car as I was leaving the campsite. Such a flash of sunshine, it’s almost shocking! Sadly the Eagle Owl seems to have moved on from it’s roosting position just above the campsite and denied Mick & Jan the pleasure of seeing it.
There are loads of crickets about and the noise level of the critters and the cicadas have increased substantially. Here’s one we found that has beautiful markings: