Saturday, 10 April 2021

Wild flowers

So far this year touch wood my garden has been porcupine free. Two years ago I was furious when my white irises were eaten before they could bloom, this year I have a lovely display which may have something to do with all the new growth after the porcupine pruning. 

Really they are wild flowers, a few white ones are flowering on the bank opposite our house and I’ve seen dark purple ones when we’ve been walking. I’ve also seen a lot of tubers that have been grubbed up and half eaten so any that survived have done well.   I’ve moved a few non flowering clumps from my border into the orchard, hopefully they will live or at worst distract the porcupine from the cultivated beds.

This is my current favourite orchard flower, it’d a wild orchid that I’ve been watching for several weeks, there are two the another not yet showing it’s flower.  I’m sorry the photograph is not very good, I’ll try again when it’s in full bloom.

I’ve also found a large self seeded cyclamen that is doing well.  I resist the temptation to move these plants into the cultivated garden, they seem happy enough.  

I’ve thrown down in the orchard a couple of packets of assorted wild flower seeds with some marigold and nasturtium seeds saved from last year and it’s rained.  I’ll hope for the best.  The orchard has a lot of wild flowers already, all the usual weeds plus plants we don’t consider wild, pot marigolds, sweet peas, fennel, mint, hellebore, honesty.  I like them doing their own thing, it confirms what I learnt last year when we weren’t here for 8 months, the garden does fine without us.  Of course that isn’t going to stop me gardening.

Finally a totally unrelated picture of my French lavender, it’s keeping the bees fully occupied, Mr FF says to the detriment of his broad beans which are actually set.  Good old nature.


Sunday, 4 April 2021

Solar benefits

Now the weather has really picked up things are happening outdoors. 

MrFF has reconnected our outdoor solar shower, he used it on Tuesday, the next day we both used it.  The water wasn’t exactly scalding for my first al fresco shower this year, in fact it went from moderately warm to decidedly cold.  I’ve been reading recently about the benefits of cold water swimming and cold showers, so I put on my grown up face and got on with it.  A brief spell under the chilly water, apparently 30 seconds is enough to make a difference to your mental and physical health, wasn’t a problem as once out I soon dried and warmed up in the sun.  This could become regular therapy round here.

You may know MrFF cobbled together engineered the shower years ago from bits and pieces we had.  Now the old table top that holds the coiled water pipe has seen better days.  We are having an upgrade, the wooden platform will be replaced by a redundant satellite dish and we are having a modesty screen made from garden trellis that came with the house.  I always have a frisson of concern that someone might come walking down the road, lean over the wall to admire my garden and see more then they expected.   Additionally the set up needs attention soon as Enrico has decided the rotting wooden platform is an ideal sleeping place, the dish will hold him much more securely though being metal it will perhaps be too hot for comfort. 

And speaking of reusing and recycling, last week I refused to wash one of MrFF’s work shirts as the front was only attached to the back by a few threads.  He found a worthy replacement as you can see below.   Next day he discovered a diamond shape patch of sunburn on his back in the exact shape of the rip.  Sometimes you can be just too Yorkshire for your own good.



Wednesday, 31 March 2021

A little normality

When we drove about half an hour away to the hospital for our vaccinations last week we had completed declarations giving our valid reason for movement, they would be required if we were stopped by the police.    With the documents we felt confident we could stay in the town after our appointments and we went into an almost deserted square where we bought takeaway coffee and pastries to enjoy sitting outside in the sun.   We hadn’t bought drinks since January when we had coffee and croissants standing beside the car after our tense visit to the police HQ to apply for our (still awaited) biometric cards.

Thursday was a beautiful day, the old buildings around the square looked gorgeous and we’d just been vaccinated, it was a simple pleasure we’d forgotten.  A lady with her daughter and presumably the grandmother walking by stopped to speak with us.  She lady lived in the town but had visited the U.K., been to Scotland and to York, we had a nice chat.   It was a sweet reminder of how open and friendly the Italian people are, we’ve missed this contact.

The square in happier times, no tables and chairs outside the bar during lockdown, photo from the internet

Living in isolation has been fine, it hasn’t bothered us, we’ve kept busy but getting out and just embracing the everyday culture is so much better.  We’ve probably got bogged down with our own little battles and frustrations,  we have forgotten why we came here in the first place.  We meet a few people on our walks but generally it’s a just a greeting as we pass.  We stopped for wine on the way home, usually we both go into the cantina and chat with the family, since Covid I wait in the car and Mr FF is served in silence, we are no longer relaxed with each other.  Thursday we had proper conversations at the hospital and in the square with strangers who were genuinely kind and generous with their good wishes.  In these difficult times we’ve all been busy looking after ourselves, keeping safe, keeping quiet, hiding our smiles behind a mask.  Maybe it would make a difference if we show a little more concern for the well-being of others, maybe it is safe to talk, within the rules, to those we know and also strangers we will never meet again.  I am going to try to offer a little kindness to people I encounter, next time I do encounter other people, in the hope it might make me and them feel slightly more normal, a feeling that is long overdue.

Friday, 26 March 2021

Dose one done

Mario borrowed my health card on Monday to order LPG for our heating, we usually order together for a better deal but he forgot, ordered his own then kindly offered to arrange ours, hence needing my card obviously.  Dont ask, remember where we live.
When he brought my card back he said I would soon be able to use it to book our vaccinations, but not yet.  I’d been keeping an eye on progress, I knew the over 80s were being treated,  then 65 to I think 63 could register with a local doctor, we are both 72.  I went online and found on the health board site that we could have made a booking a week earlier and proceeded to enter my details.  I got a reservation for few days time, Thursday morning at the hospital where we went for our health cards and in fact a town where the AstraZeneca vaccine is processed.  The factory was raided at the weekend by a special section of the carabiniere as it was thought millions of vaccines were being concealed to be sent to the U.K. and we know the EU is not happy about that.  It transpired the batch was destined for the EU and low and middle income countries under the COVAX scheme.
I was able to book Mr FF in 10 minutes after me, it was a strange system as there was only one appointment each day in any location, when I took the earliest there was nothing more available that day but I tried later and the next appointment had appeared.  Strange but true.
So Thursday morning we pitched up and reported to the vaccination reception which was staffed by two men simply handing out forms, not interested at all in our booking details.  We had pages of options for medical complaints etc to complete then waited to be called.  And waited and waited standing in a corridor with people walking by outside the treatment rooms, my appointment was about 50 minutes late, MrFF’s an hour and 10 minutes.
I was called through, a girl asked for my ID card, that’s the ID card we applied for on 18 January and are still waiting for as I told her.  I offered my health card, she said no, ID card.  I pulled out my U.K. driving licence.  That was fine, she asked where the tax code was on it, again I tried to pull out my health card, which does show my tax code, see paragraph re ordering fuel.  Again she said no, flipped the licence over said here it is and wrote down some numbers.  I’ve had a look on the back later,  I could find only dates and the number of the licence.
She checked the answers to medical conditions, asked me to sign three pages then said what drugs do you take.  None I said, that’s why I wrote none, none at all she asked, none, she looked puzzled.  A young man came out of the next room, he spoke English, he told me he’d worked in a hospital in Wales for 6 months. He asked me what drugs I took, same reply.  We then chatted for a while about the U.K., where we live in Italy, he was very sweet.  Another wait before I was called into the next room where an older man behind a desk asked me to sit down.  The young man told him I could speak Italian and was from the north of England.  Not Scotland he asked, I told him I’d lived in Scotland 25 years and worked in Edinburgh, he knew Edinburgh well and his Italian friend has an excellent restaurant there, one I know it’s quite famous.  The other man in the room, who was the one who did the injection then told me he’d been to Scotland a few years ago on a 3 week touring holiday and loved the food but not the weather.  The man behind the desk thumbed through my form and asked me what drugs I took, by this stage I wondered if I should say wine.  When I said none he asked me what illnesses I had, wasn’t that the point of the lengthy questionnaire.  The nice young man said I didn’t have any so my vaccination was approved and I moved to a different chair.  I felt nothing, I was sent back to the reception area where I was given a certificate and told to sit for a while.
MrFF expected to be called in next,  the man who went in before me said he’d an 11.00 appointment mine was 11.10, MrFF was 11.20, but three other people were called and by this time it was almost 12.30.  We began to wonder if because there were 2 appointments together with the same surname they’d got confused but when we asked they said just wait.  Eventually MrFF finally went in and after a while the nice young man came and called me in.  I thought MrFF must have taken a turn for the worse, rushed in and asked him if he was OK.  He looked surprised to see me and said he was fine, still waiting for his jab.  We had more discussions about Scotland, its restaurants and then the restaurants in our village.  I think the girl in the other room, the ID checker, was getting a bit agitated by all this chat because she came in and told MrFF to take off his jacket and roll up his sleeve.  That got things moving, he didn’t feel a thing either, we thanked everyone for being so kind and helpful, they said they were pleased to meet us.  
The whole process from form completion to 15 minutes recovery took 2 hours.  We calculated that they must be only treating 60 people a day, 6 members of staff in contact with each patient but only one actually giving the injections.  When I see on the news large vaccination centres in the U.K., I read ilkley had reached 600 per day at the health centre, and the number of U.K. adults already treated I despair.  The hospital staff were doing a great job but and taking wonderful care of everyone, we couldn’t have been treated better but I can’t help thinking if they set up in a large space elsewhere, eg a sports hall, and were streamlined things might move a bit quicker and we’d all be safer.  However we are both grateful to have our vaccines, Marios wife isn’t getting hers for another month and she is 77, and grateful to have our health cards. I was rather tempted to go and show my card and vac certificate to the man who was so horrible to us when we applied last year, but I am better than that, unless I change my mind when we go back for dose 2 in June.

Monday, 22 March 2021

Spare that tree

I’m in no position to give a master class on garden pruning but I am going to rant about bad pruning and how destructive it is.  Let’s face it nature doesn’t prune, it’s something introduced hopefully to improve on nature, but not always.

I prune cautiously and if I don’t know what to do I find out.  I’ve been almost reduced to tears when I’ve see some of the damage done by the so called gardener who looks after our communal grounds back in the U.K.  He mainly works with a hedge trimmer, has no idea about taking out old wood, dead wood, wood that has flowered or making space.  At any time of year he shapes round shrubs, well often he makes them square which I detest, or cuts them to the ground.  Last year in about an hour he destroyed at least £100 worth of established pieris, beautiful evergreen shrubs that I was so pleased to find in our garden. 

Here in Italy things grow quicker and bigger.  In many of the little towns and villages main roads are lined with an Avenue trees and every year it’s a major traffic stopping operation to cut them back.   The trees have been heavily pollarded until they have become tortured and ugly as you can see here, the photo from the internet is of a town not so far away but our village street looks identical but not flat.

I don’t think it’s ever crossed anyone’s mind that this annual expensive exercise which is taking place now could be avoided by replacing the gnarled old trees with ones that are suitably sized and enhance the street scene.

A neighbour here every year engages another so called gardener to trim his hedges and shape his conifers, they are so sharp you could cut yourself on the edges.  You can call it topiary, I call it vandalism. All the work and money goes into this cutting and trimming, the rest of the sizeable garden is abandoned and colourless.


Monty Don caused controversy recently when he suggested we reduce lawn cutting, which he considers unnecessary as well as bad for the environment citing it a controlling exercise.  I’d say the same about pruning and shaping, it’s over grooming and creates a useless habitat for nature.   During lockdown with hairdressers closed we’ve got used to unkempt and wild hair, maybe we can take this more natural approach to our gardens too, let them flourish and fill with wildlife, which we don’t actually want to happen to our hair. 

Thursday, 18 March 2021

Four legged friends

My usual post breakfast walk round the policies this morning revealed a scene of devastation.  

From a distance I could see the vegetable plot was completely churned up, on closer inspection I realised it was horses.  Why they would want to climb the little wall and wander about in bare soil I have no idea.  Fortunately they hadn’t trodden on the broad beans that are just coming through or eaten the ones planted last year that are flowering.

As usual they left plenty of manure, I didn’t photograph that, so I wasn’t too cross until I went round to the wild garden I have started.  Plants pulled out of the ground or trodden down and destroyed, more manure.  I’ve had a go at sorting it out, the plants I’ve lost were just cuttings and divisions that I hoped would add a little interest in the orchard but I’m still cross.

At the side of our orchard between our land and the neighbours fence is a watercourse that hardly ever runs but the land belongs to the comune and has to be left open.  I’ve planted a few iris along the sides of the dry stream.  At the top where the water flows under the road we have netting that can easily be opened if anyone wants access, a lady with her dog walked down the other day giving me a wave and leaving everything as she found it.  At the bottom there is no barrier to the olive groves below us and that is how the horses get in, sneakily they come at night.  Mr FF is going to find netting for that opening before the tomato season starts.  

Sunday, 14 March 2021

Red again and a little blue

Last week our part of Lazio went from the lowest to the highest zone for covid restrictions, from tomorrow the whole of Lazio will be in this red zone until after Easter.  It’s hard to know exactly what the rules are, saying you should stay close to your home is open to interpretation.  It makes little difference to us as we live in isolation and shop for food once a week.  However the ongoing restrictions are illogically weighing on my mind.  I think we have convinced ourselves that spring is here and things will get better not worse, I tell myself to sit it out that little bit longer.  We have no need to return to the U.K., it doesn’t matter much if we cannot register our car with Italian plates for now and we will get our vaccines home or away.  In fact NHS phoned only last week to check that we are still abroad, that we will have the vaccines and tell us who we should phone to do so.  I am most impressed.

Mr FF continues his work in the garage, it’s impossible to be dust free though I shouldn’t worry too much about that as no one can come into our house to see it. Saturday we had the big unveil, the grotto is dismantled, the clean up has started.  The pipes will be boxed in and incorporated into storage.

The news last week was sad and depressing, not just the ever rising infection rates in Italy.   Ms Markle and her accusations, no I didn’t watch the interview, a young English woman walking home abducted and murdered by a policeman, the latter event putting the petulance of the former into context. Unilever are no longer to use the word normal to describe their toiletries, don’t ask me I am too old for this correctness.   Life as we know it, I think I’m allowed to be a little down at times but I soldier on.  Spring officially arrives on the mountainside in a week according to our friend Antonio, I can’t wait though actually I think it’s already here and it’s beautiful.