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I call this space my online island. It’s where I go to explore thoughts and feelings about experiences I’ve had. Occasionally, there’s writing-related News, but mostly you’ll find blogs in no particular order, on themes which interest me or about what I’ve been doing.

For those interested in what’s keeping me busy me these days, good blogs to start on would be Salutary Visits, and The Little Operation I run. (Type the titles into the search box if they’re not visible on the list below right.)

Feedback welcome via the Contact Form.

My work here in Bulgaria has expanded!

For those interested in what I’m up to now, please look at the links below – and share πŸ™‚ My daily life has ever been fuller or more of a rollercoaster experience as it is today.
In a nutshell, I work to help dogs, cat, horses – and people – in a rural Bulgarian ghetto, near me. Please comment, join my facebook page (Castaway Lucy) and get involved. Once the first of projects below is up and running, I’ll be looking for volunteers to help me hands on!

https://www.youcaring.com/lucy-irvine-617274

https://www.youcaring.com/lucy-irvine-601766

https://www.youcaring.com/lucy-irvine-612302

More from me on BBC Radio 4

On Thursday 23rd October 2014 BBC Radio 4 broadcast piece I wrote. Now that my yurt is no more, I recorded it in the caravan I share with cats from a ghetto near where I live. You can listen to it on BBCiplayer any time.

‘the European Union’s spent billions on programmes aimed at integrating the Roma people, but many remain out on the margins of society, as Lucy Irvine’s been finding out in Bulgaria.’

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04lp55s

Poor puppies. Poor people.

I try to help dogs, cats, horses and humans in ghettos close my home in rural Bulgaria, because I can’t lead my life witnessing their suffering without trying to reduce it, in however small a way. Here, I discuss my approach to helping dogs and and people, simultaneously.

The tiny operation I run seeks sponsors for cats and dogs. Some of the puppies and kittens already have homes with people in the ghetto, who simply don’t have the cash to care for them well. However, because the life of a dog or cat is worth so little here, many are not in good hands. Pups can be under 5 weeks old when discarded; kittens still unable to walk. The children who pick them up can be as young as three. Not all handle them well. If I have sponsored food and/or meds to deliver to animals, I can keep an eye on how they’re faring and address problems.The same now applies to foals. donkeys and horses, although they do have value here, so are less neglected. Some foals are reared in appalling conditions, specifically for their meat. A new blog, specifically about my work with equines, is coming soon.

Those wishing to become dog sponsors can choose from photos posted on my facebook page, see link below.Β 20 pounds/35 dollars, covers worming, flea and tick prevention and food for a month. Included, is a contribution towards transport to buy food, and to the distribution of the food, provides work for humans. Two young Roma men, who live in ghettos themselves, are fast becoming competent at these tasks. A wages syndicateΒ has been formed among facebook friends. to pay them. Additionally, in return for prescriptions cashed for their children or parents, their teenaged wives cooks eggs and rice to enrich and stretch the puppies’ diets. If people donate to medical charges for humans, they can also find themselves helping puppies and kittens.

But it is not necessary to fully sponsor a pup. A few pounds or dollars towards food is always gratefully received. Many dogs here live on nothing but bread, suffer accordingly, and die young. I also feel it important that, whenever food is gifted to a puppy, consideration is also given to the serious poverty of humans here. Β When I deliver food to last a puppy one week, I like to take something for the family too – a bottle of cooking oil, sugar to make jam from local fruit, flour to make bread. Some of these people have no running water, no electricity and no work with which to pull themselves out of the poverty trap.

Another way in which both people and dogs are helped is through a Kennels Project. This started when puppies born under a rusty van were constantly at risk from children, who pulled them out and treated them like toys. A team of young men from the ghetto were delighted to be asked to build a ‘safe house’ for those pups and their mother. A horse and cart was used to fetch sand from the river to mix with cement – creating another small job. And one of the builders – formerly homeless – became so fond of the mother dog and one of the pups, that he wanted to keep them. His own one-roomed home is not much bigger than some of the kennels we build.

An individual kennel project has proved popular, too. I provide the materials and pay boys and men – learning new skills as they work – to create shelter for needy dogs. One dog helped had previously been inadequately sheltered by a suitcase; others have had no shelter at all from snow, rain and blazing sun.
30 pounds covers materials, transport and labour for a kennel, depending on size. Smaller kennels can be made for 20 pounds. Sponsors can have their name, the dog’s name or a sign of their choice, carved on the kennel they pay for.

Food, shelter, and basic meds transform the lives of vulnerable puppies. But, if I was asked what I feel would help most in the long run, I’d say: Funds For Neutering. There are tens of thousands of homeless dogs in Bulgaria. In the capital alone, over ten thousand.
Facing such huge numbers, I feel helpless. But where I live, in a small village, there are ‘only’ hundreds, and every spay or castration cancels the need for more to suffer. 50 pounds/85 dollars covers the average Β large dog spay, with follow up care and antibiotics. Less for a male. Transport also costs, but the vehicle can return full of puppy food or planks for kennels, as well as a sleepy recovery case. AndΒ we are proud to announce that we now work with Animal Spay Neuter International – who have already visited three times, sterilizing over 400 cats and dogs.

I have an ambition to make a dent in the dog and cat population in my area; to eventually have only cared for and wanted dogs in the ghetto; to find no more puppies cowering from abuse in the streets, or tossed on rubbish dumps, whimpering out their short lives in pain and fear.

More about our work helping horses in the ghetto, can be found on my facebook page. Β fanct boby house
Donations via Paypal, please, to: lucyirvine282@hotmail.com
Standing Orders can also be set up through a bank account. All enquiries to my facebook page.
https://www.facebook.com/castaway.lucy

What happened after my Castaway year

Many people have asked what happened after I left Tuin, whether I ever returned, and how long Gerald, my husband-of-a-year, stayed on Badu Island after I left. More detailed answers to these questions can be found in Faraway – about a year on another remote island – but here’s what happened ‘Post Tuin’, in brief:

After my farewell to the island I loved – and which came close to killing me – I arrived a few days later in ‘civilisation’ (Brisbane, Australia) wearing nothing but a sarong. My feet were bare and I had a tobacco tin on a string round my neck containing only a few coins. But I did have a ticket back to Britain, courtesy of diary pieces I’d written on the island, which – to my surprise – had been accepted for publication in a Sunday magazine. And I was greeted in Australia by publishers who’d paid G an advance to write a book. They hoped to recoup their money if I wrote one.

The idea appealed – vaguely – but I was so overwhelmed at that time by all the ‘new’ sights and sounds and impressions coming at me – after so much silence and just one view on the horizon over the last 400 days – I didn’t take the suggestion seriously. I was far more interested in eating. There was more variety of edibles on one restaurent table than I’d seen in an entire year.

Back in the UK, I found that my mother and sister still seemed stuck in the unhappy condition they’d fallen into after my father left to start a new life years before. I’d ‘escaped’ family troubles as a child, by running away from both school and home. And my life had changed so radically on Tuin – my former values radically altered – that I found it hard to understand their stasis. If I’d learned one thing on my ‘desert island’, it was that if you had shelter, something to eat and water to drink, you were lucky. Anything else was a bonus. I loved them, grieved for them but – I came from another world.

So, although I’d planned to stay a while, I soon left – first flirting as an alien with the London underworld – then accepting the offer to write a book about my experiences on Tuin. I needed to ‘get away’ from ‘civilisation’ again, by revisiting my island through recording what happened there.

I wrote Castaway in a former Smokehouse converted by my father into a one-roomed cottage, next to where he bred quail. And I loved the writing process. All I did otherwise was bake, feed my little wood stove and go fishing.

But the publishers didn’t like what I wrote. It was full of rude words and mentioned tropical ulcers and marital disharmony. From their criticisms – and offers to help me re-write the chapters I’d sent- it seemed they wanted something more like Blue Lagoon. I had lived that year, however, and was not prepared to doctor my experience to suit what they felt ‘the market’ would like. The market, after all, consists of individuals and some people enjoy reading about reality. So, I did not excise the rude worlds and carried on as before. I was very lucky that someone passed my (rejected) manuscript under a table to another publisher – who didn’t want it changed at all.

When the book came out, I was whirled into the bizarre existence of being a minor celebrity – an ironic contrast to my hermit-like writing and castaway days. One part of me lapped up the attention; another longed to hide from it. I toured South Africa, America, Italy, Norway, Finland and the UK, appearing on chat shows (hair and make-up done to fit a desired image) and being interviewed ten times a day. It was a strange and often lonely time with lots of adrenaline rushes followed by some memorable lows. Occasionally, I’d asked myself on Tuin, ‘What on earth I am doing here?’ I asked the same question when dining alone from a silver platter in a suite in Boston with 3 beds and satin sheets, and posing on a London traffic island to please a tabloid photographer.

But I learned as I went along that it was possible to say no, and to express my own desires, so, when asked to tour New Zealand and Australia, I stipulated that I wanted time alone at the end to revisit Tuin – with no Press following.

Torres Strait Islanders from Badu, via relatives on Thursday Island, had heard about my presence in Australia and – certain I’d return to them, and Tuin – sent a boat to fetch me. First, I was taken to Badu, where I learned that, despite offers from local ladies, who’d told me they’d look after him – G had stayed only 3 weeks after I’d left, hoping to start a business in Australia.

15 Islanders then accompanied me back to Tuin – leaving me alone to explore the ghost-like remains of our camp, which had been hit by a cyclone. A shroud of sand covered our flattened shelter but to me, this was less a sad sight than a fitting end – the natural burial of evidence of our brief intrusion on an island essentially uninhabitable by humans. The goannas, turtles, pigeons and lizards were all doing fine.

I’ve not been back since and don’t plan to go. But I have heard from one of the children I played with on Tuin’s beaches. Her father, Ronald, was instrumental in saving our lives. When he passed away, she knew I’d want to contribute to the Tombstone Opening ceremony which happened two years after his burial. She was right, and in what will always seem a too-small way, I did. And she’s kept in touch. Leaving the Torres Strait as a young adult, she studied in Australia and – this year, 2014 – is returning to the islands as a teacher. I love this.

G remarried twice after a painless divorce from me, bringing his total of wives to 5. His first post Tuin marriage was a shotgun affair with a Catholic lass of 19, in Chile. Later her married a Western Samoan girl, when in his sixties. He left 9 children we know of.
He passed away from a liver condition when nearly 70. By no means an ordinary chap. RIP.

To learn about my life these days, visit my facebook pages, Castaway Lucy, and Lucy Irvine, author.

My new book, Cherries and other stories – inspired by my years in the Torres Strait, Solomons Islands and rural Bulgaria – is published on August 1st, for e-readers. Its not yet been sent to any print publishers.