Saturday, 7 December 2019

Christmas at the Castle

We are just back from a couple of nights staying with friends in North Yorkshire.  They had been to visit us while we were in Lazio and wanted to give us a treat as a thank you, and what a treat it was.  They took us to see the festive decorations at Castle Howard.  We started with coffee, then a tour of the house gazing upon the decked out bedrooms, study, the long gallery, dining rooms, a massive tree under the dome, it was fantastic which coming from someone who is always so bah humbug about Christmas is praise indeed.  We had lunch, took a walk round the beautiful parkland and the walled garden, it was a bright sunny day and everything looked as it should under blue skies.  We left at dusk just as the trees along the drive were coming on, it was beautiful though my photographs probably don't do it justice.

Oddly I came home quite inspired to make the penthouse feel festive.   I am currently sourcing battery candles, for safety, and these two red birds came home from Castle Howard, they've settled in well on the minimalist tree we put up in our hall.  71 and suddenly there seems to be a turn around, it may not last. 

Saturday, 30 November 2019

A new family member

Whilst we were driving through France on Armistice Day we were blissfully unaware that our youngest niece was giving birth to her first baby.  We didn't know until we were home the next day that baby Isla 7 lbs 1 oz has arrived safely on 11.11.2019.  She and Mum were in hospital for almost a week as baby was jaundiced but after they settled in at home we visited.  Isla is adorable of course and while we were there very well behaved, apparently the nights are not quite so calm and daddy when he came home from his first day back at work was looking more than tired.
I quickly knitted up a little gift for the baby in a lovely soft cashmere and silk yarn.    I've used this pattern many times, its something for when she is a bit bigger.   I love knitting for children and have plenty of plans, fortunately she has other great aunts who knit and crochet so Isla will know the delights of hand made garments and already has hats and blankets.
Isla is welcomed into a large extended family with grandparents, great aunts and uncles, aunts and uncles, cousins and half cousins who all live within an hour or so.  She will be loved and treasured.  Our other grand nieces Amelia and Esme were quick to visit and apparently delighted though the younger, aged 8, was a bit apparently rather disappointed the baby didn't actually do anything.    
On the other side of life we have had a couple of deaths here in our building since our return, one sudden and quick the other after a long illness.  It makes me very aware of the passing of time, things move on, new lives take over and suddenly here I am the older generation.  We all get our turn and its up to us to make the best of it.  I had an letter this week from friends in Canada who had settled into retirement, only for the husband to be offered a fantastic job that suits him well, brings in a great wage and has turned their lives around, they plan big celebrations this Christmas.
So after a couple of weeks back we are rested, settled and getting out and about.  Next week we are staying with friends for a few days, today Mr FF is out with his walking group.  Have a good weekend doing whatever makes you happy. 

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Armistice Day

We left Lazio around 7 on Sunday morning for the long drive home and made it into France that evening.  Monday was a national holiday in France to mark the Armistice, an agreement to end the fighting of the First World War as a prelude to peace negotiations, begun at 11 am on the 11 day of the 11 month in 1918.  
We agreed that we would stop at the appropriate time for the 2 minute silence and fortunately found it convenient to do so in a small town in the Alsace where we watched the formal and respectful ceremony that involved lighting a flame beside the town war memorial, the laying of wreaths and much singing of the national anthem by a choir of school children.   It was very moving and for some reason my thoughts turned to our very different journey home last year when the yellow jacket protesters blocked our route and went on over many weeks to cause disruption and riot in Paris defacing buildings, damaging property and looting shops in their own capital city.  Today it seems there is much to complain about in such a hostile way, I wonder how it felt to be a 15 year old boy leaving the UK to go off to die in battle in a foreign country.  
Before we checked into our hotel later that day we took a detour to Arras, the site of a national war memorial designed by Edwin Lutyens that has etched into its stones the names of nearly 35,000 UK and commonwealth soldiers who were declared missing as well as 2670 graves in the beautifully maintained cemetery beside the memorial.   
As well as the official wreaths from the town mayor, the war graves commission and the like,  many ordinary people from all over the world had been to pay their respects.  Family of the fallen, generations who never knew the soldiers but knew of them, left poppies and flowers and notes of thanks.  I was touched to see someone had left a poppy for both their grandfather and the grandfather's brother, they had died together.   I'm glad we too found the time to pay our respects.

Their name liveth for evermore

Saturday, 9 November 2019


That’s it for another year.  Mr FF has finished walling the vegetable garden, no escape next the year for the tomatoes and hopefully no access for the porcupine once the netting is in place, yes of course he’s made provision for fence posts.   His work is done.

We had several days of torrential rain that kept us indoors, more is forecast soon and we decided it was time to leave.  Of course the weather picked up again once we were set on home but really it’s time to go, winter is coming.
I’ve been moving my terrace pots, planting some of the contents in the garden, hoping others might survive the winter in a sheltered spot.  I’ve collected up the solar lights to put in the cellar though hoping for a final dazzling display as they wait in a bucket on the terrace.

I’ve sorted my homeward travel knitting, made a list of things I need to bring out next year, the arrangements are all going well but my goodness it’s depressing.   Let’s not think about cats and goodbyes and several days of travel, let’s be grateful for a wonderful summer, a beautiful home and happy hot exhausting days, it’s been perfect.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

More cats

A family of four kittens and a mother arrived at Anna’s house at the bottom of our road in the summer.  Anna fed them until she disappeared to Rome for a few weeks, we’d have been more than willing to take over for her but she didn’t tell us she was going.  The cats moved up to Giovanni’s house and again were fed until he went back to Rome for three weeks again without a word.  So three of them pitched up here and were obviously starving.  Foraging under our outside table for crumbs and huddling pathetically at the back door did the trick, I started feeding them, firstly down at Anna’s in the hope they’d stay there but now on our terrace as they have definitely moved here.
The larger grey is a younger version of Grigio

They are waiting here every morning at the terrace door and sleeping in the feeder house. Enrico is fine with them, he comes from a similar background, but Grigio isn't so pleased and likes to box the kitties ears now and again.  There are two grey and one grey and white, the littlest isn’t in great condition, a bit too thin, but the other two are well and now allowing me to touch them.
We told Mario there are at least five cats here now hoping he would understand the feeder will need regular top ups when we leave.  He just said five was too many, he needs to tell that to the people of the village who allow their cats to breed so profusely.  It’s hard enough leaving Grigio and Enrico to exist over winter, now it’s a much bigger problem.  None of the five are greedy with food and none are aggressive but there is always the worry that other strays will get wise to the feeder and come regularly, it could become very competitive.  We never know what’s happening to the cats when we are in the UK, when we came back this year the opening to the feeder house wasn’t even up against the wall so despite Mr FF’s careful design any large animal could get to the food and probably did.
I am at the miserable stage now of knowing we will be leaving soon, ready to be back in the UK, not wanting to leave the cats and knowing there will be several months of worry and concern about them.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Another years oil

I think we picked our olives a little earlier this year.  We had been undecided what to do, our crop wasn’t great with a few well ladened trees and a lot with hardly anything but it seemed wrong to leave the fruit to waste.  We spoke to Giovanni our neighbour who had already started his harvest and he said we could put our minimal amount of olives with his to go to the frantoio, the mill, in the next village.
So we spent Saturday and Sunday furiously hand picking and managed to fill five crates.  Monday morning we weighed in 100 kilos and the mill said it was enough for our own run, which is pleasing for everyone as we all prefer our own uncontaminated oil.  We left our crop on Monday morning before the mill started working and it was Tuesday evening before we got a call from Giovanni who kindly took us in his car to collect the oil.    We had produced 15 litres,  Giovanni around 110 litres and he will be picking for another week with help from his family at the weekend.  He told me his son takes 50 litres of his oil per year and his daughter 80, he seemed to think she likes to bathe in the stuff.
So it wasn’t our greatest result but we felt it was a fair return.  Of course we made bruschetta when we got home, it wasn’t the strongest oil we’ve ever made and it didn’t have the fizziness you sometimes get for the first few days.  But it is enough for another year, it’s own own production, it’s pure and it’s miles better than anything we could buy.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

The bells the bells

Despite continuing sunny days, temperatures in the low 20s and no need to light the stove in the evenings, it is late October and we know what happens then.  I heard a bell ringing on the mountain behind us a few days ago, I wasn’t sure what it was and hoped it was one of the hunting dogs gone astray.  Today the sound is closer and I can confirm it’s the cows.  They live high in the mountain during the summer, when we went to the mass they were at the very top, but as the year progresses they make their way down to our level seemingly in order to drive me crazy.  I hate the sound the bells make, it’s a miserable loud clank clank, I hate them being outside out bedroom chiming through the night and most of all I hate the fact they confirm that winter is coming.
Lets not dwell on that, we are still having fun.  We’ve had friends from Yorkshire to stay for a few days, good company, nice trips out and lots of chat.  We have yet to pick the olives, not so many this year and we may need to find someone to chum up with as we won’t have enough for a mill run.  Our village frantoio has closed down, such a pity as it was fast, efficient and accommodating when we didn’t have a large crop.  They said people prefer to buy their oil cheaply in the supermarket.  That’s ridiculous, if it’s cheap it’s no good and what can beat your own pure fresh oil or the delicious smell from the mill while the olives are being processed.  Now we have to travel to find a mill, we used to have two in the village both now gone.
Mr FF is still building walls in the orchard.  I am gardening as always but now in preparation for leaving.  We still have tomatoes, I’ve overdosed in figs.  It’s all as it should be even if the bovine campanology doesn’t suit me.