Balkan Breaks abandoned – for now: #underthemask

I was triggered this morning by Facebook. It often happens. And it’s generally the unsolicited ‘memories’ that start it.

Today, it was pictures of Easter travels to the Balkans. My son Madoc and I would visit Bulgaria – partly for pleasure, partly to take care of our ‘affairs’ in the country.

Nine years ago, nearing the end of one of my busiest years in business, during which I spent 20 weeks working abroard, I had a cycling accident.

I have no clear memories of it, but reports are of me launched high above the crossbar, with the bike up above me. I came down on my head, fracturing my skull and giving myself a minor brain-bleed.

A month later, still uncertain how complete my recovery was going to be, I bought a semi-derelict cottage, on the side of the Konyaska mountain, 10km from the city of Kyustendil, close to the Macedonian border.

I told myself “it’s a no-brainer”!

At the time, Bulgaria was outside of Europe. To buy a house, I needed to set up a business in the country. That business has to produce annual accounts, hence the need to visit at the turn of the financial year.

In 2014, graced with a 10 day window to holiday with Madoc, we loaded the land rover, with all the toys you could imagine – bikes, inflatable canoes, tents, BBQs – bundled our six-month old spaniel in the back, and set off on a major road-trip.

Madoc’s ipad ran out of battery by the time we reached Reading, so we entertained ourselves for the remainder of the journey, playing I-spy, (in which all the answers were Squidge – the name of our dog) and singing “ten-green bottles” and “one-man went to mow”

Four days later, having been stopped for speeding twice, we made destination just after midnight.

The house of course, was still derelict. But we had commissioned some work on the barn. We slung a couple of hammocks, spent three nights swinging in them, recovering our spines, loaded the dog back in the truck and drove home, without off-loading a thing! (another four days!)

The land rover trip was a unique experience. One of a huge number  we have had as a result of our investment in the country.

We still haven’t finished the house – though it looks very different from what it looked like back then. Ironically, before the COVID19 crisis we had identified some funds to undertake the next scheme of work, in time for us to fully occupy the house this summer – high quality problems, that will remain on ice for now.

So, I reflect on lives we took, so much, for granted. Coffee shops and chatter, freedom of movement, a certain confidence in our health and wellbeing.

We have pressed the re-set button, in a major way. The only certainty for now, is the uncertainty. The only direction is forward, the way only clear is to the next bend.

But is it not always like that? Is the certainty we normally comfort ourselves with just an illusion?

Maybe what we are being offered now is another chance to recognize that all we have is here, all we’ve got is now and to question what we would like to put our attention on, with each breath we are gifted. In each moment of each day.

By the way, I checked in with our closest friend in Bulgaria earlier. Dave Moore is in isolation. But He often is! This year however, he is in a new relationship, in his remote country home.

“To be honest, I am not so affected by it,” he said. “Can’t go to any café or restaurant so the home cooking is getting better.”

Dave works as a builder and lives in a very remote spot. “I guess living in isolation has less contrast to someone living in the towns.

“I do have some work in the next village so life is easy that way,” he added

In the blissful early days of a new relationship you can be anywhere and not smell anything but winter-flowering Jasmine, or cherries in spring. Long may that state continue for my dear friends in Bulgaria.


HG 3/4/20







We will continue to share experiences of life #underthemask. If you have a tale to tell, do please let us know.




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