Tuesday 30 October 2018

With bells on

Beside the various church bells we regularly hear, my favourite being those at the little chapel of San Michele on the mountain above us, there is a wide variety of tintinabulation from the animals around us. 
The smallest bells are those worn by the hunting dogs that sniffle about, sometimes in our garden searching out wild boar.   The hunting season is in full swing so there is gunfire every day and particularly at the weekend when hunters arrive from Rome looking ridiculous in their camouflage outfits and accompanied by lots of dogs. At least the bells are a warning for our cats to keep away and when dogs get lost as sometimes happens we can tell the hunters if and when we’ve heard them.

Then there is the delightful sound of the bells on the sheep, who are now in the habit of hurtling down the mountainside to attack our hedge and my pots of plants.   We are quite happy about the hedge cropping, wish they could reach a bit higher and tidy it all, but begonias, marigolds and spider plants have all been relocated.  Even when we can’t see the sheep we hear them late afternoon grazing nearby, they make me happy.
The third bells are those worn by the cows that live high on the mountain during summer.  They are massive horned beasts wearing huge alpine bells and the clanking is getting closer as they move down for winter.  They may eventually end up right here at the house as they did one year, grazing outside our bedroom window all night and entertaining us with their bell ringing.  There is some rural law in Italy, we were told about it when we bought our house, that if your land isn’t fenced off anyone can graze their animals on it.  There is access to our orchard and the cows have been known to wander in, as has the odd hunter who apparently has the same right of access.
I find the sound of the cow bells rather mournful, in the way I did the winter geese flying over every night when we lived in Scotland.  It foretells the approaching winter and heralds the next set of bells, those blooming jingle ones.

Tuesday 23 October 2018

Provisions and provisos

We have opened the last box of 80 Yorkshire teabags, though I do have 30 bags of another brand for emergencies. The uk muesli is almost finished, and I really eeked that out by alternating with supermarket granola and Kellogg’s cornflakes. I’ve finished my substantial supply of easy summer reads and now have only the books I feel I ought to read and imagine I shall want to one day, A S Byatt, Winifred Holtby, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Pizza is no longer the takeaway food of choice, though it is the only one available.  I’m already imagining our first fish and chip supper and thinking about stopping off at the Cambridge services for a Marks and Spencer’s sandwich on the journey home. We don’t ever buy ready made sandwiches here, or often in the uk for that matter.  The only Italian ones we see in the supermarkets are white bread, simple sparse fillings and amazingly a shelf life of several weeks. Of course any deli counter will happily make up a panino with whatever you like and they are good but we always have the ingredients at home and make our own. 
I’m still loving our own tomatoes and aubergines, eaten many ways and often with pasta but I’m thinking more about uk food now the fierce heat of summer has turned to gentle warmth.
So maybe we shall be back in Yorkshire within a month but despite all the above I’m really not ready.  We have such a lovely quiet life here in rural Lazio, I absolutely love my garden and even more our cat Grigio.  There is the additional consideration that we might be coming back to Italy next year after a no deal Brexit with all the complications that could involve.   The way things are going there is fat chance of any resolution.   It’s infuriating that two years of expensive negotiations have clarified nothing.   I once worked with a guy who when someone was useless would say ‘good job they’re not running a country’ sadly in this case they are, UK and EU ministers continually demonstrating their inadequacies.    How can we ever trust them again, not even to organise a celebration in a brewery.

Wednesday 17 October 2018

Water works

On Monday Mr FF located the second water leak, it’s up by the little sports ground and loosing a good amount of water.  Someone had strimmed the roadside and left large piles of cuttings which he collected together and burnt whilst generally tidying the area of rubbish, an abandoned pair of old wellingtons and the like.  Then he began digging for the leak which was under a large wooden notice board, the actual break in the pipe is directly below the concrete footings.  The (unused) notice board is massive, he says if it falls in him it will kill him, I believe him as it’s visible from our house some distance below.  
The options are to take down the board, excavate the foundations, fix the leak and replace the board - somehow  - it’s a big job, or put in a new piece of pipe to divert ours from under the concrete.   The pipes for the other 3 houses in our road are also under the concrete but at the moment we are not feeling so benevolent that we want to sort this problem, not that the other properties seem to get as many leaks as us or maybe they don’t care.  Mr FF is busy digging out for the diversion option.
There is so little money spent in Italy on infrastructure, the roads are a prime example and below us the plastic water pipes run exposed at the side of the road for anyone to tamper with.   Marios water pipe runs from the village on the surface of the verge, he’s always getting leaks.  We are never sure about the quality of our water or whether it becomes contaminated by these holes in the pipes, we drink a lot more wine than water as a precaution.
We are totally fed up with the amount of energy expended on these stupid leaks, days of hard work simply because the pipes weren’t laid correctly in the first place.  What idiot imagined running them unprotected, not far below the surface, through thick undergrowth and over sharp stones was a good idea.  
Wonder what the Italian word for Slapdash is.

Sunday 14 October 2018

Friends and aliens

We understand that having foreign friends gives an italian a certain kudos, certainly Mario likes to show us off in the village and we have a friend in Rome who likes to visit with his companion, I use that word as I don’t understand or like the ongoing relationship with the live in woman who nursed his late wife and never left.   This friend believes he can regularly bring strangers to us for lunch, show them round and play the charming host whilst I cater.  People who arrive empty handed, eat our food and we never see or hear from them again.
We weren’t that surprised when having arranged to come for lunch on Friday, it’s a given the companion would be coming, as always empty handed,  our friend phoned the evening before to ask if he could also bring his friend Andrea who would be 80 that day and was feeling depressed.  We met this bloke 15 years ago and thought he was about 80 then, hard to say no so I said yes and ranted.
It turned out Andrea still looked about 80, he was far from depressed, charming and sweet, interested in the food I’d made, the ingredients, my cooking methods, asked to see the garden, gave me good advice and identified plants.  He said he’d had a splendid day, I was pleased to have made him happy.  So my misgivings were unjustified, though it would have been nice to have had a follow up thank you from the Romans,  the bottle of prosecco they brought didn’t go that far between 5, we saved them the cost of a restaurant birthday meal and politeness costs nothing.
I’d been ranting to my Danish friend the morning of the lunch and mentioned that as I approach 70 I need to clear my life of people who don’t enhance it in any way.  She told me she’d just dumped a couple who’d been her friends for 60 years.  This pair come out to stay with them in Italy every year,  buy a few bottles of wine, most of which they drink themselves, a few coffees when they are out together and contribute little else.  I can tell you they are treated very well during their visits, my friend is an excellent cook and a generous host, she makes a big effort.   Things came to a head when they all flew back to Denmark together recently. My friend had packed everyone sandwiches for the journey 
and when they ate these together at the airport the visiting wife went off and bought two small bottles of wine, one for herself one for her husband, offering her hosts for the last 8 days nothing. My friend was understandably furious but didn’t react in the heat of the moment.  After a couple of weeks contemplation she contacted the couple and said she couldn’t see them again, there was an exchange of opinions, it’s over.
I think it’s very sad after so many years that friends part like this. We have known the offending couple several years and see them when they are in Italy.  We enjoy their company but equally I fully understand that one cannot be made to feel like the doormat in a relationship.  It’s hard enough having house guests without feeling totally put upon and a friendship needs maintenance from both sides, even if the major contribution from one is simply to bring joy to the other. 
I’ve had one of these culls before and never regretted the clear out, I feel another coming on.

Thursday 11 October 2018

Water leak update

Sunday morning Mr FF went off to fix the water leak, which he discovered was our neighbour Anna’s, he fixed it anyway and she was delighted plying is with cake and wine in gratitude.  However we were left with our meter running when the supply was turned off at the house.  We searched the mountainside but it had rained so it was impossible to locate the problem.  Yesterday Mr FF went up again, found and fixed our leak.  Let’s hope that’s the end of it for this year.  
While he was working he got chatting to contractor who was working on the land nearby.  He agreed we need a single pipe down the mountain to our road where we could locate the 4 meters in an accessible spot.  He said he had the equipment and would do a good job for us.  Of course all 4 houses would have to agree and pay for this work but it would make life much easier.  You might think it would make sense too for the water board to have an efficient system and they might contribute, think again. 
Meantime we had a card in our post box from the water authority asking us to take a reading from the meter and send it in.  No reference number was provided or reply card, we should phone or email a response.  Since their member of staff who was here this week, a man considerably younger than us, had failed to enter the chamber of horrors to read the meter it’s a bit cheeky to expect four pension aged householders to do his work.  Annna has told us to throw the card in the bin but I’m tempted to reply, if I can find a reference number.
Spoke too soon, Mr FF has just checked the meter, we still have a leak.  Give me strength.

Saturday 6 October 2018

Utility bills

We have another water leak.  I’ve mentioned before that our water meter is on the mountainside above our house, about 10 minutes walk away, and that from the meter the pipe is our responsibility.  We had thought this year we were ok, the pressure was good and Mr FF had understandably been reluctant to take a machete to hack his way through the undergrowth to the sometimes snake infested pit that houses the meters.  
This week a man from the water authority was here looking for the meter, armed only with an iPad he had no chance and left without taking readings. 
Anyway this visit prompted Mr FF to turn off the water at our house, beat a path to the pit and see if the meter was spinning, it was.  We couldn’t have a summer without a water leak though I do wonder why it’s always our pipe that fails not one of the three other houses in our road.  Fortunately earlier in the year Mr FF had spent a couple of days clearing the gully the pipe runs down of brambles and self seeded trees.  He was able to find water bubbling up from the earth fairly quickly.   Let’s hope it’s an easy fix.  
In case you are wondering why our meter is so far away, it seems the water authority only have to supply within a short distance of a road, our road is private so it doesn’t qualify and though we’ve all tried to get the meter moved closer, like the end of our road, it’s just not happening.  No doubt when we do get a meter reading and a proper bill there will be further discussion.
Speaking of which we didn’t get a bill for refuse collection last year, we reported this and were told the lady who dealt with the accounts had been off work, quite a lot of people hadn’t been charged and that an invoice would arrive.  Subsequently we received and paid this years bill but despite a reminder nothing has come for last year, I just hope it isn’t the same situation as the tax office where we received a 30% fine for declaring some unpaid tax, in fact we’d paid the tax in the UK but that didn’t help.  We were told if we’d kept quiet and waited to be discovered the fine would have been 10% and if we weren’t found out within 5 years we’d have got away with it. Smart thinking that strategy, like putting water meters in an inaccessible location and not being able to charge.

Monday 1 October 2018

Closing in

It’s that time of year when the nights are longer, we have to start sleeping in the bed rather than on top of it, lunches are a bit more substantial than a few slices of melon and shorts are not always the garment of choice during waking hours. I won’t call it autumn, we still have high daytime temperatures, the leaves remain on the trees, tomatoes continue to be produced, breakfast is always taken outdoors.    But I can feel the change and I don’t like it.  The local festas are over, we had the last one on Sunday and it got quite cool sitting in the square till midnight for our village talent contest.  The grape harvest has started and the olives are turning black, people are preparing for winter and of course wearing their warmer clothes even on a sunny day.
The pool temperature is down to about 18 deg so it isn’t used much but we leave it up as it’s holding down the membrane for the new pavings that probably won’t be laid till next year.  
We are into October, we shall have to go back to Yorkshire next month and my heart sinks at the thought of leaving our cat Grigio even though she is perfectly happy spending most of her day and a lot of her night outdoors.  She has chummed up nicely with Enrico who has become much less aggressive and likes to sleep in the pizza oven, it does contain a basket and pillows and is never used for cooking.  
A better person would concentrate on the last weeks here and relish the season, I’m trying really I am.   Tell you what I’ll light a candle or two as the sun goes down, put my slippers on and pretend I like cosy.