Friday 20 December 2019

The festivities go on

Having so late in life discovered the pleasure of excessive stately home Christmas decorations yesterday we visited Harewood House which is not so far from the penthouse.  We met up with our friends Roger and Christine, started with coffee and chat then took a walk round the beautiful grounds, I am not a fan of formal gardens but for some reason I loved this one.  

The parkland is glorious, we walked round the lake through the Himalayan garden then took the little ferry back across the lake to the bird garden, which I felt was unnecessary and rather depressing, I am not a fan of captive creatures in small spaces.
The decorations in the house were not as opulent as Castle Howard, obviously everything was on a much a smaller scale and there were a lot of animations that I didn't particularly enjoy, talking statues that kind of thing, which involved the rooms being quite dark.  We need to go back again at a normal time of year to see the property fully.  
Fortunately I did see the painting of Seymour Worsley, the Scandalous Lady W.  If you haven't seen this BBC film you must watch it.  I watched it in 2015, have been waiting ever since to see the portrait, now I need to see the film again.

The below stairs part of the tour was delightful, you could just imagine the hot and steamy work involved to prepare elaborate meals.  There were a lot of cupboard doors that could be opened to reveal beautiful glassware, china, pots and pans. I came away thinking that I too probably need about 4 dozen individual size cut glass decanters.
And no library, there are 3 in Harewood House, should be complete without a Christmas tree of books.
This weekend we will travel to my brothers for the Santa drop and to attend the carol service in the village where he and I were born.  Another Christmas, another year almost over, I hope you have a happy and peaceful time.

Saturday 7 December 2019

Christmas at the Castle

We are just back from a couple of nights staying with friends in North Yorkshire.  They had been to visit us while we were in Lazio and wanted to give us a treat as a thank you, and what a treat it was.  They took us to see the festive decorations at Castle Howard.  We started with coffee, then a tour of the house gazing upon the decked out bedrooms, study, the long gallery, dining rooms, a massive tree under the dome, it was fantastic which coming from someone who is always so bah humbug about Christmas is praise indeed.  We had lunch, took a walk round the beautiful parkland and the walled garden, it was a bright sunny day and everything looked as it should under blue skies.  We left at dusk just as the trees along the drive were coming on, it was beautiful though my photographs probably don't do it justice.

Oddly I came home quite inspired to make the penthouse feel festive.   I am currently sourcing battery candles, for safety, and these two red birds came home from Castle Howard, they've settled in well on the minimalist tree we put up in our hall.  71 and suddenly there seems to be a turn around, it may not last. 

Saturday 30 November 2019

A new family member

Whilst we were driving through France on Armistice Day we were blissfully unaware that our youngest niece was giving birth to her first baby.  We didn't know until we were home the next day that baby Isla 7 lbs 1 oz has arrived safely on 11.11.2019.  She and Mum were in hospital for almost a week as baby was jaundiced but after they settled in at home we visited.  Isla is adorable of course and while we were there very well behaved, apparently the nights are not quite so calm and daddy when he came home from his first day back at work was looking more than tired.
I quickly knitted up a little gift for the baby in a lovely soft cashmere and silk yarn.    I've used this pattern many times, its something for when she is a bit bigger.   I love knitting for children and have plenty of plans, fortunately she has other great aunts who knit and crochet so Isla will know the delights of hand made garments and already has hats and blankets.
Isla is welcomed into a large extended family with grandparents, great aunts and uncles, aunts and uncles, cousins and half cousins who all live within an hour or so.  She will be loved and treasured.  Our other grand nieces Amelia and Esme were quick to visit and apparently delighted though the younger, aged 8, was a bit apparently rather disappointed the baby didn't actually do anything.    
On the other side of life we have had a couple of deaths here in our building since our return, one sudden and quick the other after a long illness.  It makes me very aware of the passing of time, things move on, new lives take over and suddenly here I am the older generation.  We all get our turn and its up to us to make the best of it.  I had an letter this week from friends in Canada who had settled into retirement, only for the husband to be offered a fantastic job that suits him well, brings in a great wage and has turned their lives around, they plan big celebrations this Christmas.
So after a couple of weeks back we are rested, settled and getting out and about.  Next week we are staying with friends for a few days, today Mr FF is out with his walking group.  Have a good weekend doing whatever makes you happy. 

Thursday 14 November 2019

Armistice Day

We left Lazio around 7 on Sunday morning for the long drive home and made it into France that evening.  Monday was a national holiday in France to mark the Armistice, an agreement to end the fighting of the First World War as a prelude to peace negotiations, begun at 11 am on the 11 day of the 11 month in 1918.  
We agreed that we would stop at the appropriate time for the 2 minute silence and fortunately found it convenient to do so in a small town in the Alsace where we watched the formal and respectful ceremony that involved lighting a flame beside the town war memorial, the laying of wreaths and much singing of the national anthem by a choir of school children.   It was very moving and for some reason my thoughts turned to our very different journey home last year when the yellow jacket protesters blocked our route and went on over many weeks to cause disruption and riot in Paris defacing buildings, damaging property and looting shops in their own capital city.  Today it seems there is much to complain about in such a hostile way, I wonder how it felt to be a 15 year old boy leaving the UK to go off to die in battle in a foreign country.  
Before we checked into our hotel later that day we took a detour to Arras, the site of a national war memorial designed by Edwin Lutyens that has etched into its stones the names of nearly 35,000 UK and commonwealth soldiers who were declared missing as well as 2670 graves in the beautifully maintained cemetery beside the memorial.   
As well as the official wreaths from the town mayor, the war graves commission and the like,  many ordinary people from all over the world had been to pay their respects.  Family of the fallen, generations who never knew the soldiers but knew of them, left poppies and flowers and notes of thanks.  I was touched to see someone had left a poppy for both their grandfather and the grandfather's brother, they had died together.   I'm glad we too found the time to pay our respects.

Their name liveth for evermore

Saturday 9 November 2019


That’s it for another year.  Mr FF has finished walling the vegetable garden, no escape next year for the tomatoes and hopefully no access for the porcupine once the netting is in place, yes of course he’s made provision for fence posts.   His work is done.

We had several days of torrential rain that kept us indoors, more is forecast soon and we decided it was time to leave.  Of course the weather picked up again once we were set on home but really it’s time to go, winter is coming.
I’ve been moving my terrace pots, planting some of the contents in the garden, hoping others might survive the winter in a sheltered spot.  I’ve collected up the solar lights to put in the cellar though hoping for a final dazzling display as they wait in a bucket on the terrace.

I’ve sorted my homeward travel knitting, made a list of things I need to bring out next year, the arrangements are all going well but my goodness it’s depressing.   Let’s not think about cats and goodbyes and several days of travel, let’s be grateful for a wonderful summer, a beautiful home and happy hot exhausting days, it’s been perfect.

Wednesday 6 November 2019

More cats

A family of four kittens and a mother arrived at Anna’s house at the bottom of our road in the summer.  Anna fed them until she disappeared to Rome for a few weeks, we’d have been more than willing to take over for her but she didn’t tell us she was going.  The cats moved up to Giovanni’s house and again were fed until he went back to Rome for three weeks again without a word.  So three of them pitched up here and were obviously starving.  Foraging under our outside table for crumbs and huddling pathetically at the back door did the trick, I started feeding them, firstly down at Anna’s in the hope they’d stay there but now on our terrace as they have definitely moved here.
The larger grey is a younger version of Grigio

They are waiting here every morning at the terrace door and sleeping in the feeder house. Enrico is fine with them, he comes from a similar background, but Grigio isn't so pleased and likes to box the kitties ears now and again.  There are two grey and one grey and white, the littlest isn’t in great condition, a bit too thin, but the other two are well and now allowing me to touch them.
We told Mario there are at least five cats here now hoping he would understand the feeder will need regular top ups when we leave.  He just said five was too many, he needs to tell that to the people of the village who allow their cats to breed so profusely.  It’s hard enough leaving Grigio and Enrico to exist over winter, now it’s a much bigger problem.  None of the five are greedy with food and none are aggressive but there is always the worry that other strays will get wise to the feeder and come regularly, it could become very competitive.  We never know what’s happening to the cats when we are in the UK, when we came back this year the opening to the feeder house wasn’t even up against the wall so despite Mr FF’s careful design any large animal could get to the food and probably did.
I am at the miserable stage now of knowing we will be leaving soon, ready to be back in the UK, not wanting to leave the cats and knowing there will be several months of worry and concern about them.

Wednesday 30 October 2019

Another years oil

I think we picked our olives a little earlier this year.  We had been undecided what to do, our crop wasn’t great with a few well ladened trees and a lot with hardly anything but it seemed wrong to leave the fruit to waste.  We spoke to Giovanni our neighbour who had already started his harvest and he said we could put our minimal amount of olives with his to go to the frantoio, the mill, in the next village.
So we spent Saturday and Sunday furiously hand picking and managed to fill five crates.  Monday morning we weighed in 100 kilos and the mill said it was enough for our own run, which is pleasing for everyone as we all prefer our own uncontaminated oil.  We left our crop on Monday morning before the mill started working and it was Tuesday evening before we got a call from Giovanni who kindly took us in his car to collect the oil.    We had produced 15 litres,  Giovanni around 110 litres and he will be picking for another week with help from his family at the weekend.  He told me his son takes 50 litres of his oil per year and his daughter 80, he seemed to think she likes to bathe in the stuff.
So it wasn’t our greatest result but we felt it was a fair return.  Of course we made bruschetta when we got home, it wasn’t the strongest oil we’ve ever made and it didn’t have the fizziness you sometimes get for the first few days.  But it is enough for another year, it’s own own production, it’s pure and it’s miles better than anything we could buy.

Wednesday 23 October 2019

The bells the bells

Despite continuing sunny days, temperatures in the low 20s and no need to light the stove in the evenings, it is late October and we know what happens then.  I heard a bell ringing on the mountain behind us a few days ago, I wasn’t sure what it was and hoped it was one of the hunting dogs gone astray.  Today the sound is closer and I can confirm it’s the cows.  They live high in the mountain during the summer, when we went to the mass they were at the very top, but as the year progresses they make their way down to our level seemingly in order to drive me crazy.  I hate the sound the bells make, it’s a miserable loud clank clank, I hate them being outside out bedroom chiming through the night and most of all I hate the fact they confirm that winter is coming.
Lets not dwell on that, we are still having fun.  We’ve had friends from Yorkshire to stay for a few days, good company, nice trips out and lots of chat.  We have yet to pick the olives, not so many this year and we may need to find someone to chum up with as we won’t have enough for a mill run.  Our village frantoio has closed down, such a pity as it was fast, efficient and accommodating when we didn’t have a large crop.  They said people prefer to buy their oil cheaply in the supermarket.  That’s ridiculous, if it’s cheap it’s no good and what can beat your own pure fresh oil or the delicious smell from the mill while the olives are being processed.  Now we have to travel to find a mill, we used to have two in the village both now gone.
Mr FF is still building walls in the orchard.  I am gardening as always but now in preparation for leaving.  We still have tomatoes, I’ve overdosed in figs.  It’s all as it should be even if the bovine campanology doesn’t suit me.

Monday 7 October 2019

Time for a leak

Yes it’s annual water leak time, you didn’t think we’d get away without one or two this year did you.  Giovanni called recently to tell us there was water on the road near his house, the route the pipes take to the houses.  Mr FF firstly had to take a brush cutter to fight his way into the scary chamber that houses all four meters, ours was spinning when the water was off and so was our neighbour Anna’s, she was away at the time.  He dug beside the road, found the leak and fixed it. It wasn’t ours it was Anna’s, so he still had one to find,
Over the years he’s put in various stop valves to isolate sections of our pipe and help locate any problem.  This leak of course was in the horrendously overgrown gulley behind our house.
He spent the best part of a day cutting back the thorns and branches to clear the route but still couldn’t find a tell tale damp area.  Next day we both walked up the gulley listening for running water and eventually found the leak, the hole in the pipe was on the low side and water was draining directly into the ground, you can see how much in the video below
All fixed for now.  In the past we haven’t worried too much about the lost water as the authority won’t send anyone into the pit to read the meter and they have charged us very little, though this year we have already paid 100 euro.  However speaking to Pietro who has a house in our road that is barely used for 4 weeks in the year, he told us he’d had a bill for 400 euro recently.  He said he’s not paying it and I don’t blame him.  We are responsible for the leaks between the meter and our house, the pipes are badly installed close to the surface and directly onto rocks that puncture the plastic pipes, our water comes directly from source with no treatment and no checks on quality, they should be paying is to drink it.

Tuesday 1 October 2019

Frutta fresca

This pretty dish was a gift from an Italian friend many years ago, I like it a lot as it features one of my favourite fruits.
We have three fig trees in our orchard, one is the green variety that fruits early summer, I find these a bit boring,  the other two are brown ones that are coming ready now which I love.  Just as soon as the fruits start to ripen I eat them immediately straight from the tree.  If you’ve never had a ripe fresh fig still warm from the sun you’ve missed one of life’s great pleasures.  Some years I make jam which is good but usually I can eat as many as the trees can provide. It is possible to consume the whole fruit but I prefer to split them open, firstly to admire them then to check they are clean inside.

Not only is the fruit delicious but the trees are both beautiful and undemanding.  They never seem to suffer from disease or infestation, they don’t grow too big, I don’t prune mine or give them much attention but they never fail to bear fruit.
It’s such a productive time for fruit now.  I was at my neighbours recently and he sent me home with a big bag of his plums and told me that the strawberry grapes which I love will be ready in a week or so.  He showed me his three vines all loaded with fruit and I’m sure a lot will arrive here, Giovanni knows how many I can eat.

Monday 23 September 2019

A wet day in Lazio

Beautiful nonetheless
It’s not autumnal yet but high summer has passed.  We are still using the pool,  probably not for much longer.  The garden is happy, the irrigation is turned off.

Thursday 19 September 2019

Reduce Reuse Recycle

I despair when I see blatant examples of business ignoring the need to reduce waste while you and I do our best to make a difference.   

Mr FF received a parcel today that came to us in Italy from Berlin.  The item inside the box, itself in a box,  was small as you can see, the rest of the box was full of pieces of polystyrene.  The small box contained a replacement solar panel for our garden fountain.  Admittedly the panel is somewhat fragile but the intention of using solar power and sourcing just a new panel rather than a complete new fountain is cancelled by the excessive packaging,  I shall keep the polystyrene and use it in the bottom of a large plant pot to reduce the amount of compost I use and therefore the weight, probably for annuals that won’t have deep roots.  The supplier obviously doesn’t care what happens to the polystyrene.
Mr FF is an living example of the 3 Rs, these are his working shorts, previously his working jeans, previously his smart jeans. You can’t say he doesn’t get value, the tattered hat was a gift, it was unworn when he received it.

Sunday 15 September 2019

Mass on the mountain

Last Sunday we made our way to the top of our mountain, 1420 metres above sea level, to join the celebrations beneath the statue of the queen of peace.
We were able to drive almost to the summit, the man who directed us to the car park seemed to know us and said we could either walk the final stretch on the road or take the shorter mountain path.  No guesses which one Mr FF selected, it was rough, steep and unclear but my main concern was that we would suddenly emerge from the woods behind the altar amongst the 7 officiating priests, we didn’t.
After the mass there were talks, presentations and finally around 7 pm we were lead by the local band to the statue where rose buds were laid and prayers said with the most beautiful background of a setting sun and distant mountains.

Monday 9 September 2019

If you say it loud enough

We took part yesterday in a village church event,  I’ll post more details soon.  As on similar occasions we’ve attended it seemed acceptable to wander in and out of the venue, let your phone ring and to chat quietly during proceedings so it wasn’t too surprising when a young boy,  about 10, tapped Mr FF on the shoulder and asked if we were English.  He seemed delighted that we were and confirmed this to the friend who appeared beside him.
They obviously wanted to practice what they knew, starting off with hello, they proceeded to do you like pasta, a few things we didn’t understand and they told us their names, all with huge smiles on their handsome little faces.  I asked them if they knew the children of some of our friends, yes they did and asked me how to say best, they were best friends.  The conversation turned to them asking me how to say various things until they had me stuck at supercalafragelisticexpialidocious.  It’s the same I said, e lo stresso, we say supercalafragelisticexpialidocious too.  Yes they said, but how do you say it in English.

Wednesday 4 September 2019

Stone Age Man

Now the terrace is finished Mr FF is constructing a new path in our orchard.  The ground there slopes and it’s always difficult for me getting to the veggie department in my flip flops so a flat path will be great.  It’s also a good way of getting rid of the remaining rubble, currently in bags, from when we renewed the front garden paths, we waste nothing.
The little stone retaining wall is sweet and much in keeping with the large wall.  Mr FF is becoming quite skilled at this type of work, who knows he may have missed out on a brilliant career as a bricklayer.

Monday 26 August 2019

Then it rained

Be careful what you wish for,  I was longing for some rain to wash us clean, sweep away the dust and give the garden a good water.  Instead we had a couple of days with terrific electrical storms, high winds and hailstones the size of grapes.  The latter gave everything a good bashing, took the leaves and flowers off my plants, brought down a lot of olives and filled the pool with debris.  There has been a lot of sweeping up and cutting back.  It’s disappointing that plants I’d been nurturing and were just about to flower were cut down but I’m confident they will eventually recover and I’ve collected a lot of the broken pieces to try to root them.

Strangely the storm seems to have cleared away the migraine that and been bothering me for several days, I must be more sensitive than I imagined.  It is a bit cooler now but not much and no mosquitoes seem to have been harmed in the storm, pity.
Here are the hailstones that collected on our sunshades before we got them down and a little video of the event.

Friday 23 August 2019


Me and the garden have been a bit frazzled of late, the heat has continued and it’s been impossible to work outside without being attacked by mosquitoes.  Collecting the copious crop of tomatoes is painful, I rather fancy one of those full cover bee keepers outfits to protect me.
One of my current favourite plants is a white datura I grew from seed.  Strangely it flowers overnight, opening up at the end of the day and throwing out a heady perfume that attracts a frenzy of bees before the sun goes down.  The flowers which almost glow in the dark last for only 24 hours but there are always more.  All parts of the plant are poisonous possibly why it has the the name devils trumpets.  Here it is together with a few other garden glimpses.

Monday 12 August 2019

It’s a whopper

Not a conversation you have every day but Mr FF asked me this morning if I’d posted his salami on my blog, happy to oblige that’s what I’m doing,
Last week we went with our Danish friends to talent show in their village, organised by a friend in our village.  It was held at the sports ground, there was food and wine, it was a lot of fun and we sat up on the terraces to watch the show.  There was a raffle, Mr FF bought three tickets for 5 euro and was lucky enough to have the winning number for the second prize.  He got a bottle of wine and a voucher for salami from a local shop.  For some childish reason I and my female danish friend found this very amusing, the chat in the car on the way home was smutty to say the least, we laughed so much acting like 17 year olds though we are both beyond 70.
Mr FF and I collected the prize next day, well he sent me into the shop saying he had to keep an eye on the car as we had no change for the meter.  Here it is, surprisingly large, Mr FF was impressed when he saw it.  I posted a photo to my friend and refrained from further comment though several came to mind.

Wednesday 7 August 2019

Sorry I’m not sorry (rant)

Watching the news today I saw that British Airways cancelled a lot of flights because of IT problems.  However they apologised to customers and were offering them the opportunity to rebook on a different day.  Opportunity -  an occasion or situation that makes it possible to do something that you want to do or have to do.   BA contrive to make it appear they are doing their customers a favour, a one time only sale ends Sunday offer, enabling them to completely rejig their plans.  No mention of holidays ruined, appointments missed, life just messed up. No, they are offering an opportunity, dream on BA.
I recently raised a complaint against the company we employ to manage our apartment building, as owners we pay them to do this.  I had raised some queries with the Director who is our property manager, waited 3 months and reminded her twice before I got the response that she would not be responding and there would be no further correspondence on the matter.  In other words shut up.
So I lodged an official complaint, not holding out much hope as the investigation was to be carried out by a fellow Director of the company.  The complaints procedure, available on the website, states within 7 days of my complaint I would receive a summary of their understanding of the issues and within 14 their findings.  Apart from an acknowledgement I heard nothing for 43 days and then only after I chased them.
Regarding the 3 month silence I was told they could only apologise and when I questioned the delay in investigating my complaint I was told they had wanted to ensure they had all the detail.  It’s a joke, they just don’t give a toss.  I told them in no uncertain terms that this shocking customer service is endemic in the company and they can do a lot more than only apologise, leading my example would be a good start.
I don’t imagine customer service will ever improve, even phoning our property managers we go through the push buttons and hold for ages procedure, usually before being connected to an answering machine.  It’s the norm nowadays but on the positive side I had to speak to my solicitor recently.  She was in holiday but I was given a contact in a different office who was helpful and kind.  I’m taking him a bottle of our local Italian wine as a thank you, sadly I can only apologise that I won’t be delivering one to our property manager but I can offer her the opportunity to do without,

Monday 5 August 2019

More for me then

Last year the single plum tree in our orchard had only a couple of fruits.  Both Mr FF and Mario told me to chop it down. Men do that, they love the slash and burn gardening and they are impatient.  A perfectly nice tree, not taking up needed space, providing greenery, I gave it a tidying up prune, some feed and left it alone
This year I saw it was flowering, watched and hoped as the fruit set and not so long ago I picked plenty of plums.  Enough to stew and serve with mascapone and crushed amarettos.  I told Mr FF he shouldn’t have any as he’d wanted the tree chopped down.  He has no faith but he did get some pudding.

Tuesday 30 July 2019


It’s amazing how a good downpour refreshes the garden in a way no amount of irrigation can.  Everything looks clean and bright, the paths are washed down, the pool is overflowing, it’s worth a day stuck indoors for all this renewal.
I have rather over filled my new raised bed with cuttings and plants grown from seed. Some haven’t behaved as I expected like the cosmos I placed near the front that have grown metres high and are yet to flower.  There are some real thugs in there, like the nasturtiums covering Mr FF’s lovely travertine and hiding a little begonia but I am pleased with the lush jungle and next year I shall know better.

Sunday 28 July 2019

Wet wet wet

Its taken a welcome wet day in Italy for me to update you.  Yes we are back, it’s been extremely hot, we’ve had friends to stay for a few days and finally the heat has put hard labour on hold, though Mr FF was briefly caught bashing rubble for a new orchard path yesterday.  He’s done enough with the pool and terrace for now, let’s relax and enjoy
It’s high summer, the village is filling up as families escape the heat of Rome, festas are held every weekend in the squares, too many tomatoes in the garden, another fantastic Tour de France and 28 deg in our bedroom most evenings.  It’s all predictable and wonderful.
The rain started early morning, I was out at 3 am calling Grigio when it got heavy, she was delighted to be inside and is beside me now sleeping through the thunder and lightning.  Mr FF is still in bed also sleeping through the storm after a late night at the village wine and pasta festa.
Tonight we’ll watch 22 year old Egan Bernal take the Tour trophy, be a little sad that it’s over for another year but look forward to more hot lazy days and for a while no watering.

Sunday 14 July 2019

Five rise locks

Continuing our Yorkshire staycation we had my brother and sister in law to stay for a few days, always a good reason for us all to get out and enjoy the local attractions.  On the second day we had lunch out then visited the glorious engineering feat that is the five rise locks in Bingley.  Situated on the Leeds Liverpool canal it’s a series of locks that raises, or lowers, boats, a beautiful watery staircase.  We chatted to a barge owner passing through the locks and then to the lock keeper who answered our questions and let the boys help him open and close the gates.  The locks, which are all manually operated, have been in continuous use for over 200 years, originally to transport goods and now mostly for leisure boaters
I’m sorry the photo isn’t great and that I cannot give you a link to relevant websites, I am as always struggling with the iPad but do a search for more information or even better visit them yourself.