August’s reasonably good start brought some sunshine for the garden. In fact, there were actually a few occasions (very few!) when I actually had to water our veg, fruit trees and flowers because 3 or 4 days continual heat was actually drying out the ground & causing plants to wilt! Due to the ridiculous amounts of rain falling, my usual daily routine of watering had been mostly discarded and when I resumed it for a while, I realised the ensuing neglect – beds full of weeds, flowers badly in need of dead-heading… The daily interaction with my plants usually provides plenty of opportunity for tending, tweaking, caring – note to self: pottering in the garden IS required, whatever the weather!
Runner beans continued to crop fabulously – it became a running joke amongst guests eating with us: “What are we having with the beans today?!” Turns out that Jenn’s fabulous bean structure (which has withstood all manner of weather and really proved it’s worth) was a little too high after all. We had to resort to ‘kids on shoulders’ to pick the beans near the top!
Tomatoes were also in abundance and we’ve picked kilos more this month. The plants started to look a bit forlorn as lower branches died off but most are still growing vigorously at their tips. It’s sod’s law that those plants with smaller stakes to support them have outgrown them and those with huge stakes have barely grown a quarter way up, so I spent many hours in the garden in August, swapping stakes, re-tying and tidying dead leaves. I also fed them well with diluted compost tea and comfrey stew at their roots. You can tell what kind of summer we’re having when I tell you that we’ve continued to pick lettuce all month, along with a few radish and plenty of rocket.
We haven’t bought a single lettuce from the store for months! And I’ve even sown more lettuce seeds this month which I would never normally do. See below for more lettuce, tomatoes (note the bowl of toms in boiling water at the back ready to be skinned and processed), chillies, courgette and of course… beans!
Courgettes continued to crop really well. Local beans provided a tasty handful every other day as did fresh chard. We picked most of the Spring onions and chillies really got going this month. Herbs have been a little disappointing, especially the basil which seemed to romp ahead at the beginning of the month but has stalled a little – the purple & the small-leaved basil has benefitted most from the weather conditions, it seems.
The tyre wall is looking less fabulous – I think July was it’s peak month this year. August saw the sunflowers take off but they have struggled in the wind and storms. Cosmos has generated lots of green foliage but not all plants are flowering – probably due to lack of sun. Petunias have suffered from lack of dead-heading and are looking straggly and unkempt. Zinnia clearly needs more sun than it’s getting – it’s leaves have even developed a mildew! Lobelia continues to provide the startling dashes of blue and Marigolds are really taking off all over the garden, their piercing orange especially dazzling in the fading light of dusk. Nicotiana plants have taken over but now are mostly foliage and little flowers. The only bonus of the damp month is that Pansies have continued to flower their heads off and their delicate petals variously striped with purple, yellow, crimson are a joy.
In the orchard, the pumpkins and butternut squash plants really took off. Seems like some have fruited too early – we picked our first pumpkins at the end of the month as they were as orange as they were ever going to get. Neither were very big but tasty nonetheless.
Maybe now that I’ve removed the early fruit the plants will concentrate on making more. I also spent a few hours weeding and top dressing the orchard, particularly feeding the areas where the squashes were growing so I’m hoping this will improve our future crop. The roses are struggling in the garden (they seemed to be being ruthlessly munched by some critters) so they also got a good dose of compost and goat poo around their roots.
Gazania & Violas line the edges but have suffered from not being dead-headed regularly; Geraniums are more foliage than flower; Petunias, Snapdragons & Marigolds have faltered and Sunflowers (improperly staked and then battered by storms) haven’t come to much…
Mother Nature revealed some beautiful sights this month. The ‘Supermoon’ of August 10th was impressive (much more so than these photos convey!)
The Perseid meteor showers between 10th and 13th August were not as impressive as last year due to the fullness and brightness of the moon, but Steve saw a couple of crackers that moved slowly enough to be traced across the sky.
Steve spotted this cute frog hiding in the rosemary bush:
We’ve seen Hummingbird Moths and the majestic Hawk Moths this moth as well as this beautiful furry moth (found sheltering in the bathroom cabinet!):
But mostly Mother Nature has brought us drama and crazy weather – we’ve had huge storms (caravan-shaking events that scared Daisy so badly she jumped up onto our bed, startling Steve awake) with deafening thunder claps & impressive lightning (limbs of trees have been brought down all over the place!); crazy winds; even some hail and most of all unbelievable amounts of rain, falling relentlessly for hours on end at times… It has been indescribably soggy and with the water table rising so high, the land is not drying easily. So much water lying around, then followed by periods of intense heat have provided the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes and horse flies. A ‘Clegg’ as the Scots call them (what a ridiculously inoffensive name for such nasty critters! Sounds like a gentle Yorkshireman…) is a truly awful thing – dive bombing any moving targets, hunting for blood. The trick is to stay still (and then actually they are quite slow and easy to swot if they land on you) but with 10 of them buzzing and swooping maliciously, one’s instinct is to flee! Daisy walks have got shorter this month as more & more paths and walkways became overrun with them.
The flies and mozzies did however attract the Spotted Fly Catchers to the campsite and it has been a joy to watch them and the Swifts and Swallows swooping for food (from the safety of the campsite kitchen with the mozzie coils burning furiously!!). We’ve caught lots of glimpses of Eurasian Golden Orioles – sunshine flashes across the campsite to the tree just beyond. And we’ve heard, thought not properly see Bee Eaters high above us…
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 made more jars of tomato sauce and roasted, cherry tomatoes with roasted garlic for our winter pantry.
Chopped tomatoes are a staple for lunch either in a salad or on day-old bread for homemade bruschetta. With aubergines cheap and plentiful this month, I’ve made Mellanzone alla Parmigana a couple of times, which uses up loads of fresh tomatoes. Though Steve confesses to not being overly keen on the purple-skinned veg, this is the only dish with them in that he will happily have seconds of. With plump red chillies and cherry tomatoes in abundance from the garden, it was clearly time to make chilli jam – doesn’t look much different from the tomato sauce in this shot but it packs a mean punch and that’s even before it’s matured for it’s minimum 1-2 months… Gulp!
Although runner beans are fabulous as a side dish, the days got too hot for a while for stews and casseroles so I’ve used runner beans in salads quite a lot – I slice them thinly and cook until just past crunchy and then serve them either with roasted beetroot or with diced red peppers. What I love about these 2 dishes is the visual effect of dark green and purple/ red. I’ve made up a yummy dressing to go with the beans too: a dollop of ren (horseradish, but seemingly not as hot as in the UK), a dollop of mayo (or natural yoghurt), a squeeze of lemon juice and some olive oil. I’ve variously added fresh chives and dried dill too.
When I discovered a recipe for Runner bean and Courgette chutney online I found a way to use the veg we had piling up in the stores:
Steve has been baking his own bread and had made some might fine loaves. Here he is modellling the fetching pinny gifted to us (I have an ‘Eve’ one to go with his ‘Adam’!) last Xmas:
With income so low, I’ve been very focused on keeping our costs down this month so there’s been lots of veggie food, using up existing stocks of chick peas, split peas, couscous and lentils. Guests have been erratic and unreliable in August so we stopped trying to plan ahead for meals until we had bodies on site and it has been a particular pleasure of mine to rise to the challenge of creating meals for people from what’s on site at the last minute. I now have a new toy which I’ve yet to put fully through it’s paces…
I have enjoyed so many books by Margaret Attwood, that I was delighted to see one I hadn’t read, ‘The Edible Woman’, show up in our library.
It was a very different book from many other of hers I had read – written back in 1965 it seemed to represent an emerging talent, not a developed one. The style seemed muted, the writing almost too simplistic and repressed but Attwood is a talent, and was way back then, so you understand at the end of the book that it’s all part of the point. Marian’s telling of her life seems straightforward and mundane at first – especially compared to her colourful room mate Ainsley. Her acceptance of her very dull relationship interestingly built up a frustration in me and this is itself very clever writing as it leads the reader to really relish the strange twists and turns that take place and rather think of them as far-fetched (which I did a bit, to be honest) you welcome the process of her breaking free all the more by having been stifled. It’s hard to explain the power of this book – it’s not particularly exceptional writing, and the characters aren’t mind-blowing but it builds to something important and as the novel drew to a close I felt hugely satisfied and like I finally ‘got it’. And the character, as muted as they may have been have really stayed with me – I can think about this book now many weeks on and remember so many details about them, it’s quite startling. I know I’ve said this before but the bigger an impression a book leaves on me, the more I rate it…
I wouldn’t have picked up another Ian McEwan book had not it been for Jim (our most regular guest/ now friend and owner of the Miata) insisting that it was worth it. I had read ‘Solar’ last year I think and hadn’t rated it at all. Jim concurred that it wasn’t one of his best and encouraged me to give ‘Atonement’ a chance. I’m so glad he did. What a wonderful book! What exceptional writing!
McEwan creates memorable, rich characters whose lives one can immerse oneself in so fully, so fast. I read this book in a couple of days, so caught up was I with the people and the events and not wanting to leave the words unread for longer than I had to. His descriptions of the war and the humans that fight in it, mop up the wounds of it and generally endure and suffer it are stunning. His writing is both raw and beautiful, explicit enough to draw you in and almost make you gasp but implicit enough to let your imagination fill in the gaps. The story is clever and compelling – from the outset he drops the hints of things to come which will change everything for everybody and you are hooked – puzzled, intrigued, yearning for more. As the cover proclaims (and I concur) ‘A magnificent novel’. And a heart-wrenching love story.
Murakami’s ‘Kafka on the Shore’ (brought to me from Sweden by Annika via Jim) is equally magnificent – in completely different ways.
This guy is a genius at taking the reader on fantastical journeys that weave spells, break rules, defy logic and bemuse. The subject and writing style couldn’t be further from McEwan, whose tale is rooted in the grit of human reality and it’s weaknesses and whose prose is clever, subtle and evocative. Murakami’s style is simpler, more straightforward but no less powerful from being direct. The writing is almost childlike and I’m left wondering whether this IS his style or whether it’s shaped around the central characters of a young person and a simpleton…? It is a bewildering book in that as I think back on it now I recall the bonkers twists and turns and surreal events (that do NOT seem that far fetched somehow – or rather you realise that immersing yourself in his wonderful creation requires you to suspend judgement and just enjoy) but I can also bring to mind the interwoven passages about classical music, history and other very interesting subjects that are crammed in to surprising places. If I had to sum this book up in a word it would be: ‘full’… It is packed. Bursting. There is craziness, plenty of sex, weird and wonderful characters, love in all it’s forms and on and on… And yet at the same time not over-done or over-complicated or over-engineered. Just right. It is remarkable how seemingly disparate events and people converge to make a romping good story with the right amount of question marks to leave one reflecting long after it’s ended. I absolutely relished this book and almost threw myself into his ‘IQ84’ immediately after but decided I needed a calmer interlude and went with ‘On Green Dolphin Street’ instead, another wonderful donation from Jim. To be reviewed next month.
Progress against projects has been patchy this month to say the least. We only had 2 volunteers this month, Simon & Laura who joined us for a week. Laura diligently took on the task of finishing the gazebo cover for the structure over the new platform and hand-sewed the ties to hold it to the frame. Here’s the finished product, being tested by the wind…
Shame we didn’t manage to get any photos of them working on projects, but here’s a nice pic of us with them before they left:
The week that they joined us was one of the hottest of the month/ year so far, so we couldn’t actually get much done beyond a few hours in the morning and the late afternoon as the heat just sapped all our energy. Simon & Steve did have a session in the stream on the top plot one morning though, felling a few big Bay trees that were growing across the stream. Their work opened up the area beautifully – shame we didn’t take a before & after picture really – and provided us with a few loads of winter fuel.
Steve managed to finish building the bin store wall:
Steve finished placing the last few tiles in the mosaic and we both spent some hours grouting it. It’s back-breaking work, especially for me – my body can’t tolerate me doubled up so low and I’m so wary of further damaging my back that I can only do a bit at a time, but the results are very encouraging. Photo next month when it’s totally finished…
Another storm, another gazebo cover ripped to bits…
So Steve was back on his sewing machine, working his magic, patiently and with care. Thank goodness for his skills – we’ve saved ourselves a fortune by sewing sheets up like this and can’t imagine how we deal with the shade issue frugally and successfully otherwise…
The worm compost needed some serious attention after the layer of small stones at the bottom of the bin had got clogged by compost falling through, preventing the bin from draining properly and making the compost too wet. Steve discovered it full of maggots, with the worms about to drown completely in a foul-smelling stew at the end of July and had dug a lot of it out and dried it out. Now it was time to empty the entire bin, sieve the gravel (we got a barrow & a half of worm compost bagged up from this worthwhile process) and re-build it.
We also decided to empty the compost loo chambers at the end of the month. The manure had been rotting down for over a year and was ready to use – a good time to feed the garden which must have had lots of nutrients washed out of it by the excessive amounts of rain. Doesn’t it look fabulous!
The good thing about the rain was we really got to see the weak areas in the building for water ingress. Usually we return to the campsite in the winter to find various leaks in the basement without being entirely sure what caused them. Here’s Steve’s solution to one of the leaks (we hope!):
The trusty Honda water pump packed up mid August. Luckily we’ve hardly been using any water because we’ve had so few guests so there’s no panic about filling the tank at the moment but getting parts for the pump can be awkward and best sourced from the UK so it was time for Steve to try and diagnose the problem, order parts and then test his theory. Here he is patiently pulling apart the motor:
He’s diagnosed the problem as a faulty fuel pump. which has now been ordered and will be delivered to us by Carrie (our most frequent, reliable and obliging mule!) soon.
The 3 coaching programmes I secured last month began in August so I had a few trips to Tivat but all is going well and at the end of the month I was asked to commence an additional coaching programme, so it seems I’m doing something right… I’m really enjoying the work but it is very challenging mentally to switch from chief cook & bottle-washer to professional consultant!
This month fun times have been few and far between but we have had our moments. We took advantage of Simon & Laura being on site to leave the camp one lunchtime and not return until the following evening. Steve had a tekkie afternoon back at the house whilst I did some coaching and then we had plans to join our friends Fi & Dave for the evening. Sadly Dave got sick that afternoon so the original plan of him picking us up in the RIB fell apart but we took a boat to Rose instead (getting to the Marina early for ice-cream at café Do Do and the full people-watching experience) and Fi picked us up from there.
We joined a bunch of folk dining at Colin & Jane’s for the evening, where they had arranged for a chef to cook for us all. The food was nice and it was fab to have a night off from cooking, but I wasn’t overly impressed and his Indian dishes Steve declared were not as good as mine! We met up with Jas and Tats and little Isak, who is 2 now and quite a character and also enjoyed the company of Jas’ sister and her hubby and a couple of other friends. It was a lovely evening but the bug that Dave had seemed to spread among the men – strangely a male-only bug?! So people peeled off reasonably early. After we took Jas’ sister and family back home we returned to Fi’s place in Zanjice and enjoyed some early morning hours of chatting and laughing.
The next day was chilled and thankfully Dave emerged, feeling a little better so we got to enjoy some time with him. We visited Jas and the gang and cooed at his amazing new development – a beautiful stone renovation in a nearby village. Eventually we could postpone the trip home no longer so Fi dropped us off down the hill and we caught a boat back to Herceg Novi. The power went off across the entire bay on our way home so when we eventually made it back to the site (after being stuck in traffic to the border for nearly an hour!) we did some star gazing with Simon & Laura on their last night with us, joined by a few guests and all of us enjoying the lack of light pollution which made the sky and the stars even more impressive.
A bunch of our local mates joined us for a BBQ in the middle of the month – Toma & Ankica & her friend from Belgrade, Maja, Aleksa, Jelena & Nikola… It was a lovely evening – good food, good company and very relaxed.
And a few days later finally some local friends actually camped with us for a night! Lara, Ben, Oki & Nora hired one big tent and Alena, Ched and Ognjena hired another. We had a BBQ together with our guests/ friends – Jim & Annika – and had a chilled evening (once the kids were in bed!) sitting round a bonfire (yes, fires in August! It has been THAT wet!!) and sipping Port. The best thing was that the following day they didn’t rush off but enjoyed a lazy morning with us – a late, slow breakfast sitting in the shade and enjoying the nature all around. The kids were in their element amazed by flowers and bugs and butterflies. It was wonderful to spend some quality time with Alena and Ched, who we rarely get to see these days and little Ogi is adorable!
Feelings & Musings
August has been another difficult month, with challenging weather and far fewer guests than we need to make this feel like a business and not just a ‘hobby’. We did get busy for a while – we even had one or 2 days when our chalk board was finally full of names, with guests numbering in the late teens. But most folk only stayed for a day or 2 en route to the mountains or back home and as quickly as the place filled up, it emptied out again.
Martin & Sharon joined us at the beginning of August for 2 weeks and it was great to have the continuity of at least 2 guests every day. They came bearing gifts – honey, t-bags and real ale for Steve, chocolate and biscuits for us both and treats for Daisy – and were super low maintenance guests with their own transport and cooking for themselves. Fillip, from Belgium stayed with us for nearly a week too – the longest he’d ever stayed in a campsite, and ate with us every night and with Jim & Annika returning on & off and Jonathon and the kids coming back for a couple of nights and a lovely Belgian couple, Michael and Eva staying for 5 days too, the place did have a buzz to it for a short while. And the weather was fine – mostly. Enough for Martin & Sharon to get a great tan at least and not feel too cheated.
But it didn’t ever really settle enough for us to relax and believe that summer was finally here. A stonking hot day was followed by a cloudy one, the humidity was unbearable at times, the storms kept coming out of nowhere and we had to be ever vigilant of sofas left uncovered, hammocks and cushions exposed. Even reefing the gazebo covers didn’t help – the night the storm ripped the cover on the main sofa area the covers were drawn back but not tied in and the wind was strong enough to blow it open and shred it.
Stress continued to build in August. Many people who had booked simply didn’t turn up, even some who had booked a tent hire didn’t show up and we wearied of preparing tents and bedding for possible no-shows and resorted to only erecting tents when people actually arrived. Less people ate and drank with us than in previous years so the chance to make amends for poor footfall by upselling food, beer and wine was lost. Any tent we did put up we fretted about leaking and ended up upgrading some guests for free rather than risk a lesser tent not being weather-proof.
The excessive amounts of rain meant that even after dry days the evenings could be damp and the sofas were soggy and not pleasant for socialising on after dark. With so much water around the mosquitoes flourished – every day we and our guests got covered in bites from tiger mozzies and tiny black mozzies with especially stinging bites, that added to our irritability. And in mid/ late August the horse flies arrived with a vengeance to compound the misery.
The traffic at the border was a nuisance for us and our guests. There were at least a couple of weekends when the queues of cars backed up for many kms and our guests had to risk overtaking or sit in traffic for hours. The horns from frustrated drivers, stationary in their cars for hours on end, disturbed the peace of the campsite and probably kept our guests awake at times although folk were nice enough not to complain too much. We stopped leaving the campsite from Friday morning onwards, ensuring we had fuel and food to last us at least 3-4 days.
We have mostly felt fed up, worn down, irritated, anxious and frustrated with the occasional moments of happiness. The story for August is not a particularly happy one and I’m sure it’ll send my mother-in-law rushing to text us with concerned enquiries (relax Pam, we’re OK really) but it’s how it is. Business in Monte and in Croatia is reported to be 30-50% down on last year, so we’re not alone with our struggles and we’re trying not to take it personally. With fewer guests, we’ve had more time to reflect, make new plans, consider our marketing strategy and key tasks for the autumn/ winter and to get on top of our paperwork and spreadsheets on an ongoing basis. Not for us this autumn the mind-numbing task of entering all our receipts and guest information to analyse our incomings and outgoings – we’ve done it all as we’ve gone along. So, we’re well aware of what a terrible season we’ve had financially and of the task ahead.
Despite all of this we’ve held our nerve and tried to remember how lucky we are overall. This is the first bad summer in 8 years – it had to happen eventually. It doesn’t negate all the wonderful times on sunny days we’ve had before and will have again I’m sure. We still have each other and our health – things that we must never take for granted. In the last week of August when we 3 rattled around the campsite on our own we embraced the fact that we have this beautiful space to ourselves and laid in the sun, lapping up the rays, feeling lucky to be able to be so decadent (well actually only Steve and I did the sun bathing bit – Daisy mostly retreated under the caravan for shade!). We’ve had time to read books, do crosswords, play Scrabble and due to funds from my ‘real’ work we are not concerned about surviving the long autumn/ winter ahead. Our affairs are more in order than they’ve ever been – we’re up to date with our accountant and company costs, whereas in previous years any profit we made from the summer seemed to be swallowed up in the autumn when we paid off all our salaries, accountancy fees and taxes. We have better information about our costs and how to manage them and each year we get smarter at saving fuel etc.
We’ve also got better at contacting people soon after their stay with us to ask them to write reviews on key websites that help promote our business and we’ve had some wonderful reviews this season. These and the kind things that people say or write in the Guest Book help to buoy our spirits and make us realise that we are running a unique and wonderful place that is enjoyed by many and treasured by some and for that achievement we should be very proud. Whatever the weather.