Saturday, 17 March 2012

First trip of the year

We leave tomorrow morning, 6 am flight, for Italy and will be away for two weeks, the yarn and needles are packed though not much else as we are only taking hand baggage.    We don't have any major project planned at the house, lots of dusting I imagine as the house has been empty since late November and it wasn't too tidy when we left.  Also some large and unlovely trees to take down and replace with something light and flowery in the lower garden.   
Meantime spring seems to have arrived in Scotland, its gorgeous today sunny and warm, I sat out drinking my coffee this morning considering that I might miss all the daffodils while we are away but excited to see what has been happening in Lazio.  I'll try to let you know via the dreaded iPad2. 

Monday, 12 March 2012

Olive Oil Obsession

our lovely hillside orchard in Lazio
I must be going through my paranoid phase, having ranted about the failings of the insurance industry I now turn to olive oil production. I have been meaning to tell you how I picked our olives in Italy last year but never got round to it, then I was reading an article in The Times magazine at the weekend about the murky world of oil production, how almost every bottle of oil on the supermarket shelf is now labelled extra virgin and isn't, how an oil can be labelled Italian even if it is made up of mostly non-Italian oil, apparently olive oil fraud is big business and what it says on the label means nothing at all.  At least I can categorically state that our oil is pure, I spent 4 happy days in our orchard pictured above picking by hand and I know exactly where the oil was milled in the traditional way and when. The Italians collect the olives by laying huge nets under the trees then combing the branches with little plastic rakes. Not me I picked by hand, no leaves or branches in my crates just beautiful olives.I did have a slight mishap when I fell out of one of the trees, no real damage just some bruising, so Mr FF took over the high level work with a rake.In our village every family has olive trees, not necessarily next to their property but somewhere nearby and in October and November everyone is out on the hillside busy picking. You can hear the chatter of families collecting and the co-operative mill in the village is working constantly, there is also a plant nearby that turns the squashed pulp into fuel, nothing is wasted. My 105 kilos of olives produced 22 litres of beautiful oil, not a great yield but it varies from season to season and is far more than we need so I can be quite generous with it both on our food and as giving it away. My friend in Rome tells me that he needs about 50 litres for a years supply and will source quality oil both locally in Lazio and as far away as Puglia.There is much excitement when the new oil comes home, it's traditional to make bruschetta and taste, which is exactly what we did. I'd been told that new oil is very special but I was surprised how very strong it is, actually a bit too strong for me but it does mellow. Chatting to friends one evening I was asked how much good oil would cost in the UK, when I said around £20 a litre they were very surprised especially when I explained that it wouldn't be anything like the quality or pedigree of the oil they produce for themselves. For those of you who don't produce your own oil The Times gives four stars to
  • Tesco Puglian stone milled extra virgin at £6.99 for 500 ml
  • Napolina special selection extra virgin at £5.39 for 500 ml
  • Nunex de Prado organic extra virgin £7.98 for 500 ml
and for those of you with bankers bonuses to spend
  • Manni extra virgin from Harrods retails at £137.50 for 500 ml,
now thats about the price I'd put on my own hand crafted oil.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Time for a rant

I don't think I've had a major rant for a while, well I am having one now. I have a health insurance policy, you may not agree with this but having never been in hospital or touch wood had any major illness in my life I do have something of a fear of these places I'd like to think I might be able to hide away in a quiet and private room if I needed treatment. It has nothing to do with queue jumping and I certainly keep myself healthy, don't smoke, one glass of wine does me, not overweight. I've had different policies over the years and been with my current provider for probably 10 or more years, obviously I've never made a claim. Last year my premium went up quite a lot so I opted for a £1,000 excess which gave a decent reduction and I calculated that a couple of years on a reduced premium would cover any excess I might have to pay in future. My policy is due for renewal next month and when the paperwork arrived there had been a 30% increase from last year, despite the covering letter stating that the average increase for my age was 17%. I phoned up and of course got the same guff I get every time I complain to them, big increase in claims, medical inflation (which I believe is running at around 3%) and when I said that I might not go ahead there was certainly no fawning for my custom, the operator merely asked me to let them know if I wanted to cancel.
So this last week I've been trawling around for a better deal and I've received three different quotes for a policy with the same provider varying from £450 to £1,000, allegedly for the same cover. I have pages and pages of small print to get through but my overall impression of the insurance business is one of deep suspicion.
For example, when our tv in Italy was struck by lightning we spoke to the insurance company who said we'd have to cover the first £100, fair enough, plus obtain two written reports about the incident from tv engineers and we would lose our no claims discount adding about 15% to future premiums. It was cheaper just to buy a new tv ourselves, we gave the old one to the repair man in the village for spares.
When we came to renew our Italian house insurance this year we were told we couldn't have cover for earthquake or land slip. We live on the side of a mountain on the edge of a seismic area, those would be our two main concerns and given the tv debacle we have little confidence we are covered for anything at all.
I might say its a long time since the days of the Man from the Pru, the insurance adviser who used to call round to collect payments from customers door to door, and that the aggressive call centre selling is a deterioration of customer service, but then I bought endowment and pension policies from the man from Equitable Life in a face to face way and a big con that turned out to be. Who can we trust.
Lets not end on a bitter note, here's my lovely amaryllis flowering it's pretty little head off. If only big business was as honest and straightforward, no small print on the bulb, performs as expected, customer satisfaction big style, happy days.