Wednesday 24 February 2010

Inactivity in Italy

I haven't blogged about our houses in Italy for a while but then there is nothing to report and I always feel a bit of a spoilt brat ranting away when we are fortunate enough to have two properties there.
When we were in Lazio at the beginning of November we did set the wheels in motion to have various improvements carried out to the house after a three year corporate let and before we started the holiday rentals again. The local joiner came round to measure up for double glazed windows and our engineer came to talk about installing a new and eco friendly septic tank. We had a price from the joiner but when we pointed out that he'd missed off a set of shutters he requoted including the extra items and putting the total price up by 10%, we are still in negotiation. We've had a couple of emails from our engineer but no scheme, no price, niente. We also asked our neighbour if he and his wife would be happy to prepare the house for our first guests at Easter, we do pay them for this responsibility. That was three weeks ago, I've just sent another email as if we don't know soon we might have to fly out to do the dorissing ourselves.
And what about the trullo in Puglia. This was to be a project for us while our Lazio house was occupied but it took us 18 months to actually buy this ruin and another 18 months to get a price for its restoration. Its an existing structure though lacking water, sanitation or any windows that we want to turn into a small house with 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and an open area of kitchen, dining, living. We finally got the price late last year and it was almost 400,000 euros, no landscaping works, no swimming pool, no work to the little building in the garden that we might one day turn into a guest house, just the basic house conversion. When we discussed the scheme initially with our architect he suggested a price around 70,000 euros, so we assumed around 150,000. For the price he has quoted we could buy two finished houses each complete with a swimming pool. We also told our architect that we wanted an eco friendly house, ground source heat pump, that kind of thing, his price included for a gas boiler. Mr FF and I find it hard to discuss the way forward, Mr FF thinks that we might go out to Puglia and do the work ourselves when he retires. Something along the lines I imagine of the retired couple who featured on an episode of Grand Designs, they worked their bums off, labouring in the day time, making curtains in the evening, to provide an artists retreat. The end result was wonderful and the couple looked brilliantly healthy, eating local mozzarella, tanned and happy in cream linen. I can't see that happening to us, I'd rather just cut straight to the linen wearing scenes and miss out the tears and toil.
As I said, I don't want this all to sound ungrateful but sitting here in snowy Scotland wanting things to progress is totally frustrating. We are happy to pay, we want to use local people and naively we imagine they might want to do the work. Everyone is so friendly when we are out there and there is much reassurance that we should not worry, but worry we do and in the current economic climate we expected a more positive response.

Friday 19 February 2010

Longing for spring

I bought myself some red tulips this week, a sort of Valentine to me and they make me very happy. Mr FF doesn't seem to have read my previous post, despite the various emails I've received from friends this week, he has been very busy bless him. However its probably going to come out tonight as we have friends coming for dinner, I know they read it.
Been a good week really, I've had several afternoons in the garden working from the paths cutting back and tidying. There are lots of bulbs coming up but my snowdrops still aren't out yet. I read that the bulb display this year should be spectacular as many have been held back by the wintry weather, so we can expect snowdrops, crocus, tulips, daffodils et al flowering in a blaze of colour. I'll believe that when I see it, and I really am ready to see it. I couldn't find a single thing in the garden to make an arrangement for the table, the winter jasmine stopped flowering under the snow and hasn't started again, nothing. Even my indoor hyacinths are on hold, lucky I got those tulips.
Must go and see to the dinner, have a good weekend.

Monday 15 February 2010

Love me love my car

I couldn't bring myself to post this one on Valentine's day, spoil it for anyone who might imagine that since Mr FF and I have been married almost 40 years every day is Valentine's day. This is how the weekend panned out.
On Friday afternoon I took my chum Pam to collect her car from the garage in the next village, only about 4 miles away and en route we called in at our lovely farm shop and gallery for a browse and a coffee, very nice. We then went to collect Pam's car, the garage is down a farm track which after the recent weather was quite pot holed and a little muddy. Finally I stopped in the village to drop some things at the charity shop before I collected a few provisions and came home. Fine, excellent little trip out.
Next morning Mr FF having taken a look at his car in daylight began the interrogation. He asked me how I had got mud on his clean car, I said I didn't know, he asked me if it had happened going to the garage, I said I didn't know. He asked me if it had happened driving along our back lane where tractors have been working in the field and bringing mud onto the road. I said I didn't know. It never occurred to me to stop and inspect the car regularly during the journey. He asked me if I had been driving too fast, I said no because I never drive fast. He then said I must have been driving fast because mud wouldn't have got onto the car if I was driving slowly. Hello, we live in the country, we have to drive on country roads, country, mud, they go together at this time of year.
I am now expecting a full government enquiry, once Sir John Chilcot has announced his findings on the war in Iraq he will be on this case. Pam will probably be called as a witness and I saw Mr FF speaking to our neighbour yesterday, presumably hoping he can cast some light on the matter. I did suggest to Mr FF that these things happen, for example I find that even if I empty the laundry basket, wash and iron our clothes, they still re-appear in the basket and I repeat the process. Same in the bathroom, I clean, we use it, I clean again. Such is life, I do not carry out a forensic analysis to find out where the dirt came from.
So there was a chill in the air this weekend and St Valentine certainly didn't visit our house. Sometimes I wonder if Mr FF loves his car more than he does me - that is not a question.

Friday 12 February 2010

I'm a slow learner

Now that I'm retired I do sometimes worry that I don't stretch myself mentally and might be slipping into some kind of intellectual decline, but thankfully I don't worry very long. I've never been a great one for seeking new adventures, during my working years the terms lifelong learning or personal development plan hardly entered my vocabulary. I like me the way I am and I like things the way I do them, I've been me for 61 years so I know what suits. I've never knitted a sock toe up, possibly only once or twice a jumper top down and I think once a jumper sideways. I did have a bash at spinning a couple of years back but I decided that buying a few balls of yarn is much easier and there's plenty of gorgeous hand spun available without me buying a wheel and eventually producing something lumpy and bumpy.
So how I hear you ask is the teach yourself crochet progressing.
I have had a go but I think I may have been a bit tense about it, I gave up once I'd snapped the hook clean in half. I do have more hooks and I keep telling myself I will master this craft, but knitting is definitely my real love and that's what I'll be doing this weekend, leaving the learning for another day.

Monday 8 February 2010

I felt like a pair of curtains but I've pulled myself together

It brings me a great deal of relief that January is over and February is well established. I got to the stage towards the end of last month where I felt old and sluggish (more than usual that is) , I was considering becoming a recluse and had got as far as constantly wearing tatty old clothes and watching daytime television. My eyes turned square shaped as my bum turned pear shaped.
But now I feel much more positive and have been doing positive things. I've started baking bread using organic spelt wholemeal flour which purports to be nutritious and digestible, it certainly tastes good in the morning with cream cheese and home made blackcurrant jam, which probably cancels out all the health benefits.
I finally got round to making a batch of marmalade. I hadn't been able to source any Seville oranges locally and trips into town hadn't gone much further than the supermarket for a siege style stock up. I intended to buy oranges when I was in Darlington but ran out of time after too much chatting. Luckily Mr FF found some for me last Friday, I made 12 jars, a years worth. I even managed to make some pretty labels. I had a delivery of lily bulbs, the box strangely left on the front door step on Sunday morning, so I got those potted up and had a general greenhouse tidy yesterday. Unfortunately when I scooped out a pot of compost from the bag I disturbed the frog that had been sleeping and possibly still hibernating in there. He seemed a bit dazed and dusty though nothing like as shocked as I was to see him sitting looking at me, he hopped off amongst some pots on the greenhouse floor and should be fine.
Although I feel I've done nothing in January, I have of course been knitting and now have a nice little basket full of socks, socks and more socks, plus the odd hat and scarf so not all wasted time. Its snowing again today but it is February, it can't last, things can only get better.

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Back to white

I can't believe it, the world turns back to white and my mood turns back to black.
We woke this morning to more snow, a good heavy covering and still coming down. To make matters worse we ran out of oil for the central heating on Sunday, we have been very economical and a tank full had lasted a good 15 months but over the recent extra cold spell we had put the heating on regularly.
So shivery shivery, I cancelled my dentist appointment first thing as I really didn't want to battle up our slippery road and down the back lane, I've re-arranged for a couple of weeks time so no worries.
Actually the snow isn't that bad, I easily cleared our drive, paths and feeling generous a stretch of the road helped by some melting before the temperature dropped back below freezing this afternoon. The oil delivery man got through late morning, we can have heat as needed not just in the room with the stove.
I just got used to seeing greenery again and even though I don't need to go out I feel trapped when I know I can't. More snow is forecast tomorrow, the winter weather has gone on too long so I'm concentrating on spring bulbs and smiling at this post that really made me laugh out loud when I spotted it this morning, a perfect reminder of things to come, thanks Rowena, excellent timing, made my day.