Thursday 29 July 2010

Socks assorted

I didn't knit as much on holiday as I expected, I took an awful lot of yarn but I just didn't seem to get the needles out in the car that often and only managed two pairs of socks during the four weeks we were away.These are Tidal Wave, a pattern I've used quite a lot, in a Regia bamboo/wool mix. Having travelled to Italy and back they are now in Yorkshire, I sent them to my sister in law as part of her birthday parcel.
These are again Regia, 75% wool in a standard pattern with some ribbing which seemed to suit the colour.
Since I got home I made these Fools Rush In. As the yarn is plain I wanted to add a little pattern but not too much, I enjoyed knitting them and am really pleased with the result.
I need to get stocked up with socks again as I'm having a stall at the September village market and another one in November. I've sold four more pairs since and because of the market in May but I'm not sure about the next event. I went down to the July market as a purchaser rather than a seller and it was very quiet. A lady had a stall selling baby clothes and only sold one pair of bootees. She asked me if I thought she was over pricing her items, far from it as she was selling pretty little cardies for £5. I told her I charge £15 for my socks and that she shouldn't under sell her work but I could see she was very disheartened. Such a pity, maybe baby clothes is a limited market or maybe I was very lucky to get such a good response to my first effort. I just hope people start Christmas shopping early and I get some more sales otherwise my whole family will be receiving socks, but then they do anyway.

Thursday 22 July 2010

France - fleetingly

When we travelled out to Italy we spent our first night in Strasbourg, in France but close to the German border. We booked all our overnight stops before we left and after the midnight ferry from Dover we could easily have been at the hotel by 9 am. To pass a little time we stopped off in Metz to view the new Pompidou Centre, a stunningly modern building that we had to admire from the outside as it didn't open until 11. I don't recall what time we were there but it was probably around 8 and we didn't have much inclination to walk around anyway. We managed to find a lovely little shop selling good coffee and fresh pastries that made us feel better and we reached our hotel around midday. They kindly let us into the room and we slept for a few hours before we took a walk round the city centre, a UNESCO World Heritage site and very nice too.
On our return journey we stopped off again in France for our last night, this time in the Lorraine at this gorgeous chambre d'hote in a very well kept village (view from our bedroom window). Such a treat after our exhausting/frustrating time in Italy to be surrounded by calm clean whiteness. My French isn't great, its over 40 years since I studied for and failed my French O Level exam, and I constantly lapsed into Italian but I did managed to communicate with Madame who booked us into an excellent restaurant for the evening. We enjoyed a delicious communal breakfast next morning with a couple oddly enough from Strasbourg and a Belgian couple. Madame was almost as excited as me about our plans for the rest of the morning.
Making our way back to the ferry we popped into Belgium to catch a stage of the Tour de France, something that has been a long term ambition. The tour is amazing, so much bigger than our beloved Giro d'Italia and we only had to wait about half an hour before the excitement really began. First came a breakaway group with about four minutes lead and then the rest of the raceWe'd have liked to have followed the riders and seen them again but we had to catch the ferry. I've been watching the tour on tv since we got home and while I get to see much more and hear lots of information you can't beat being there. It's just not the same in cold wet Scotland seeing the guys whizz through gorgeous scenery usually in scorching sunshine and I know I'll feel bereft when they ride into Paris on Sunday and its all over for another year.

Sunday 18 July 2010

That blasted bank

I mentioned that we'd had yet another encounter with our bloomin Italian bank
Through our own ignorance we hadn't realised or been made aware when we registered the four year lease (that lasted 3 years) for our corporate let that we actually had to register the contract and pay the fee every year. In fact we discovered recently that we could have registered the whole four years at the outset and received a discount but we believed registration was, like for a birth or a marriage, something you did once. Eventually we received a demand for the other 3 years registration fee, plus penalty charges plus administration costs. Our Scottish/Italian solicitor spoke to the authorities for us and it was agreed that we could pay the demands when we went out to Italy and an appointment was made for us to visit the tax office on the Tuesday morning at 10.30 to give them copies of the receipts and sign everything off. Even though the contract finished early, it lasted 3 years and one month, we actually had to pay 4 years registration (plus penalty etc) and we also had to pay an additional fee to cancel the contract early.
As you can imagine we weren't in the best of humours when we went to the bank, the branch situated just by the tax office, to make the payment but we were in good time, unusual for us as Mr FF mentioned. Spoke too soon, things started to go pear shaped straight away. I got stuck in security system that lets you through the first door then holds you in a perspex box for a while before releasing the second door to let you into the bank. After I waved frantically for a while the manager, whose sole duty for that day seemed to be to release trapped customers, let me in as he did for several others.There was a big queue and only one position open, actually there was only one position full stop with a very busy teller. There was also a woman banker wandering around who the whole time we were in there did nothing except strut about her too high heels and her too tight jeans looking over the teller's shoulder and down her nose at us.
We got the payment forms, there's never a remittance advice with a demand, its down to you to go to the bank, find and complete the right one with your tax code and various other details. When it was our turn we presented the four documents for payment, plenty of stamping of the various copies and tapping on the computer. Mr FF then offered his debit card, it wasn't acceptable, he got out the cheque book, that wasn't acceptable either, only cash was the reply. Mr FF asked how he could get the cash, the total bill came to almost 3,000 euros and the teller pointed us to the cash machine next to him. Yes it does seem odd hat you are in a bank, you have to use a machine to get money to give back to the bank. Mr FF asked how much cash we could get out in one day and the answer was I believe 750 euro. Mr FF then asked how we could pay the bill to be told it was impossible. So began the frustration, we explained that we had to be at the tax office with receipts in half an hour, that this was a branch of our own bank, that we had enough funds in our account, that we wanted to pay a government bill, how could any of it be a scam. Mr FF asked the teller to contact our own branch in Rome and we sat down to wait. Our bank said they couldn't release funds as they didn't have a copy of our signatures on computer (and obviously the various documents on file we've signed there over the years there didn't count at all). Mr FF produced our passports pointing to our signatures but these were simply waved away by Mrs tight jeans. We started to plead, we phoned our solicitor in Edinburgh and she spoke to the bank to try to get some action, we were sent to the back of the queue again. Mr FF got extremely agitated and started pacing, I think the bankers considered that a result. I was tempted to lay across the seats in the style of people in airports whose flights are delayed. After an hour or so Mr FF went to speak to the manager/door monitor and eventually he agreed to phone the bank in Rome again who said they would send a fax to authorise our payment, this latter action itself took another hour, we could have driven there and back quicker. We waited and waited, Mr FF pacing me glaring until finally we were called back to the counter and the transaction took place, with no sign at all of the awaited fax.
We were in the bank 3 hours, we were 2.5 hours late getting to the tax office and ready to face some old dragon who would refuse to see us though our solicitor had promised to phone and explain the delay. Ms Lancia turned out to be a charming and beautiful young girl wearing colourful cropped trousers who greeted us like long lost friends and wasn't at all cross that we were late. We showed her the documents, she agreed that it was very unfair that we had to pay a full years fee when the lease only lasted for one month and that we also had to pay because the lease was cancelled, she processed all the paperwork and told us we were finished.
I won't go into detail about our next visit to the bank for a new cheque book, which must be collected in person and cannot be posted. We asked for 30 cheques but after speaking with the manager we were only allowed 10 cheques because we already have some unused ones. We did manage to put our signatures onto the system for future use but never fathomed out why our statements and other information are sent to our Scottish address but our credit card is delivered to Italy. We'd really like to move our bank account but have a sneaking suspicion that it would be far too complicated, probably involving blood and DNA samples, a full interrogation and at least one overnight stay.

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Our precious time off

I'm still feeling quite peeved that we did little apart from work during the 3 weeks we were at our house in Italy, especially as the weather since we got home hasn't been good. Most of the UK is sweltering under a heatwave, we've had temperatures of around 14 degrees, rising one day to 18. Maybe I need to dwell a bit more on the times we weren't working, just a short post then.
Our neighbours, Mario and Lina, took us to an awards ceremony in a nearby town. This was by invitation only and most of the piazza was cordoned off, the uninvited leaning against the barriers watching proceedings, the locals hanging out of their windows to do the sameThe format seemed to follow that of the Oscars, all the ladies received a goody bag with makeup and a bracelet, there was meal, a beautiful hostess and entertainment.A rather aged fire eater, a contortionist who balanced lighted candelabra on every available surface whilst twisting herself into unusual shapes and a bathing beauty contest. Young and very thin girls wearing extremely small bikinis paraded in the night air and had the obligatory interview where they expressed a desire to become criminal psychologists whilst fighting for world peace, well that was my interpretation anyway. The awards seemed to be for business and community achievements and were still going on when we left around midnight.
Another evening we took Lina and Mario to a food and drink event in one of our local restaurants. We paid 15 euro each for a glass (that we got to take home) which entitled us to sample from the various stands. We then moved onto the roof terrace where the restaurant and a local catering college provided us with dinner. It was great to be out in the village, seeing people we knew, making new friends, admiring the view and enjoying the atmosphere. As so often happens in Italy there were generations out together, from young babies asleep in pushchairs to old folks and I have to say despite the abundance of alcohol not one person was drunk or in any way objectionable. I wonder why the hell we didn't get out more.

Friday 9 July 2010

Home from the heat and dust

We got back to Scotland at 5 am on Wednesday after the long drive from Dover but I've been feeling the road travellers equivalent of jet lag so forgive me that I've only just got round to posting.
Well that was some trip, I won't grace the 4 weeks we've been away by saying holiday, it certainly wasn't that. A half day trip to the designer outlet and to eat lunch beside the lake on our wedding anniversary, one coffee out, taken standing at the Autogrill counter, one ice cream, a couple of nights out with our neighbours and a visit to our friend in Rome, no I don't think that qualifies as 4 weeks holiday. So what did we do the rest of the time, you may well ask. The day after we arrived at the house, having been on the road for 3 days, the dust sheets came out and they stayed in position until the day before we left.Mr FF started knocking out the existing fireplace straight away, cue the beginning of the dust, ready for the arrival of the wood burning stove due sometime the same day. We ordered and paid for the stove in the UK several weeks before we left with strict instructions that it was to be at the house the day after we arrived, Monday. Of course it didn't come and then we received a phone call from the Italian shippers in Milan to say that it would come on Thursday and that we would have to unload it from the lorry ourselves or pay another £50 for a mechanical lift. We explained that the cast iron stove weighs about 200 kilos, that we had paid the extra, that we were both in our 60s, that lifting it would be a health and safety issue etc. After several more stressful conversations our UK providers paid again for off load. The Italian shippers then said that if we wanted the stove before we left Italy we would have to pay another £70 for express delivery. Things got very heated then and eventually the stove arrived about 10 days late which made preparing the hearth and flue for something you hadn't seen with minimal information quite difficult. The drivers dropped the stove at the end of the garden for us, the jack wouldn't travel across the lawn so Mr FF stripped off the doors and as many of the internal parts as possible to reduce the weight and devised a system of rollers, think slaves building the pyramids, to get the stove through the garden to the bottom of the steps where it sat for several days while we stressed about getting it to the top.
We ordered a lovely piece of marble for the hearth and when this was oh so carefully delivered by the guys who had made it, we asked them ever so nicely if they would help us. Help us, they grabbed the stove and between them had it up the steps in a flash, a quick beer each, hand shakes and many thanks for us and they were gone. From there Mr FF and I eventually shimmied the stove into the house and finally with planks onto the hearth.
Mr FF spent a lot of his holiday up the chimney where he put in a new tube to connect to the stoveor on the roof where he took the old chimney cap off and fitted a lovely cowl, almost as good as a disco ball on a sunny day.
We worked so hard to get this stove installed but everything was against us, the hassle with the delivery, sourcing fittings and working with different systems took so much time, in fact the day before we left we didn't stop and sit down for our meal until almost 11 pm.Here we are with less than 18 hours left, during which time we had to finish the work, eat, sleep, pack and clean the house ready for paying guests who were coming in that evening. We eventually got the stove into position but not connected, no great problem as it won't be needed for a while and looked presentable enough but disappointing none the less. So much hard work and while we were working on the fireplace the local joiner fitted new double glazed windows and external doors adding to the general chaos and mess. The house looked brilliant when we left, well anything was going to be an improvement on 3 weeks of dust and rubble. Some resentment on my part that we didn't benefit from all the work but in many ways I was ready to leave as it hadn't been much fun. That's the work related rant over, I still have to rant about our latest encounter with the bank and tell you about the good times we had, I just wanted to get all that off my nicely tanned chest.