Friday, 14 May 2021

Reuse and repurpose

When Mr FF took down the old rustic mantle piece above the wood burner to replace it with a minimal amount of marble he was all for cutting up the wood for the fire.  I persuaded him that the L shaped pieces would make a decent bench for the front garden and finally that’s what he’s made.  

He went to the builders yard to buy wood to make the legs, they kindly gave him three offcuts which he painted black, the paint was left over from another project, all he had to buy were the brackets that connect the seat to the legs.  I did say I was not sure about seeing the brackets, I’m told it’s called structural honesty when the makings are visible.  

Anna our neighbour was here on recently, she liked our recycling ethos and sat down on the bench for a while.  As she said it’s nice to sit and greet people walking by, the bench faces onto the road, then added except there is never anyone walking by, we are a cul de sac.  Never mind the view is nice.

Monday, 10 May 2021

Permesso di soggiorno (permission to stay)

believe we are not to call them ID cards though they are biometric, contain our cross and ugly photos, fingerprints, tax codes, passport numbers all of which can be used to identify us.  You may recall we applied for these mid January, an experience I’d rather forget, after which we kept checking the website to see if our applications had gone beyond the being processed stage.  A couple of weeks ago Mr FF reported that the cards were available and we would receive a message telling us when and where we could collect them.  We rather foolishly hoped this might be at our local police station rather than involve another trip to the police HQ in our provincial capital. Yes I know we’ve been spending time here for 20 years, we should know things never work in our favour.

We didn’t hear anything, Mr FF sent an email, ditto, ditto, after the third email we got a reply saying we didn’t need an appointment, we could turn up at the HQ any Tuesday or Thursday afternoon to collect the cards.   So last Thursday, with heavy hearts, we drove to the capital.  We arrived before they opened at 2.30,pm, there was already a queue.  At the main reception we were asked if we had an appointment.  When I said no and before I could explain we were told we didn’t need one we were given a piece of paper with 10 on it and simply told to go.    At the immigration office we waited outside for an hour, at least this time there was no snow, neither was there anywhere to sit and after calling in customer no 3 the staff gave up on the number system.  The electric sign wasn’t working, lit but constantly showing zero, so we were all left to sort ourselves out.  Several people did have appointments but that didn’t seem to make any difference.  We chatted to a lady from the Ukraine who said she’d been trying to renew her card since March and getting no where.  She was no 11 and processed at the window next to us.  I heard her say she couldn’t keep turning up every week but after much shouting by her and the staff she left no further forward.

It was the usual madness, our cards were in envelopes which could easily have been passed to the local police, we watched as they were opened and thrown away.   Some computer consultation, we were told to wait then passed to another staff member who took our index finger prints again, with much tutting and head shaking.  I think she wanted us to believe she was some forensic expert checking them against those they took in January, we didn’t.  Even to hand over 2 cards more paperwork was required but once the stapler came out I knew we were on the home straight.  Finally she practically threw our cards at us, we thanked her and left, almost 4 months later we were done.  I never want to go back there again.

Like everyone else at the immigration office we were treated appallingly from start to finish.   Old people, older than us, families with young children, everyone waiting outside for hours in all weathers, made to feel we were there for something to which we were not entitled. No organisation at all, why do the authority feel it’s acceptable for everyone to waste their time waiting, for everyone to travel to the capital rather than to one of the 91 local comune offices.  Yes that’s 91 town halls for half a million people,  Yorkshire 75% larger with a population of over 5 million has 39 and that includes city halls.  Here’s our local comune taken from their Facebook page, it has a staff of 40 serving a community of 3000. I suppose all these local offices provide employment but it’s a contrived tax payer funded economy of people pushing paper around, any benefits are cancelled by wasting the public’s time, unnecessary bureaucracy and the toll on my mental health.

Since we applied for residency last year we received little help from the British Embassy, at one stage they admitted on their facebook page that Italian authorities  are not up to speed with post Brexit legislation so simply rejecting applications, which was our experience at both our comune and the health board.  Yet the Embassy doesn’t seem to do anything about this ridiculous situation so hundreds of people like us get stressed and angry while they try to comply with the regulations.  In total we’ve made 7 visits to 3 different offices, from walking distance to an hours drive away, nothing was done on line, no coordination between departments, even during the highest rates of covid infection and strict lockdown we were expected to turn up and queue.  Not one person behind the counters we visited was pleasant or helpful, we never received a smile or much of a greeting, we were shouted at often.  

And you remember how immigration asked each of us to provide a 16 euro tax stamp with our application even though the information on their website when we applied did not mention this, other regions definitely did not require stamps and the embassy said we did not have to buy them.  Mr FF was on the case looking for answers and last week he got one. They said at the time we applied we did have to pay for stamps but then the law changed and they were no longer necessary.  They didn’t say when this change happened.

Thursday, 6 May 2021

Perfect climate

I cannot begin to tell you how good the weather is now, in fact some days our local weather forecast simply says perfect climate, we know exactly what they mean.     A warm sunny day, not too hot, no mosquitoes and occasional welcome rain, humans and cats see thriving.

Gardening continues at a pace.  A week ago MrFF applied weed and feed to the two lawns, just before we had a day of rain.  After 7 days he cut the grass and weeds as per the instructions, it’s looking good for now, I won’t want to show you what it’s like in high summer.

I have edged round the 98 paving slabs that form paths in the grass, it’s not a job I enjoy or do too often but the end result is more than worth the effort. 

Of course not everyone is so busy, some are only here to admire the garden if they can keep their eyes open long enough.  

Sunday, 2 May 2021


At last my first wisteria is performing beautifully.   It’s huge, the flowers are almost half a metre long.  Waiting has never been my strong point but it’s true good things do come eventually.

The other one I have, a slightly more pink shade with smaller blossom is always a week or two behind which is good as it prolongs the season.  

I think we can say winter is definitely over as the first tomatoes are in the ground, only 4 but many more waiting to be planted out.   Even the weather is on our side. We had a week of heat, yesterday a day of rain, today the sun is back.  Now it takes me and Grigio quite a while to complete our daily inspection of garden growth, we can barely keep up.

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

My normal

The lovely weather has certainly put me back where I want to be.

I had hardly been knitting, even sitting in front of the tv and the wood burner in the evening I wasn’t picking up the needles. I am now although it will soon we warm enough to eat dinner outside and linger on the terrace watching the lights in the valley so I may stop again.   These very spring like socks are I think West Yorkshire Spinners yarn, it’s so long since I started them I’ve lost the band.

We are back in the lowest yellow zone for covid restrictions, bars and restaurants can provide outdoor table service, shops are open, we can move about.  Infection and death rates are still high but the government had decided to take the risk of opening up our region and the economy.

We are also back on track with water leaks.  Mr FF  checked our meter up on the mountain and it was running slightly when everything was turned off at the house. Investigation confirmed a leak between the gulley and our house.  After much chopping of undergrowth he thought he’d found it but that one is Anna’s and loosing a lot of water.  He phoned her and has turned off her supply.  It’s likely our leak is under the road outside the house, we are hoping it will show during this dry spell otherwise we are stuck, we can hardly start random excavation of the tarmac.  Meantime we had notification the water board were sending a tecnico to read the meter, we were to be at home that day and available to assist.  We saw no one and were certainly not in the mood to accompany him up the mountain and into the snake pit that houses the meters.  No doubt we shall continue to receive estimated bills based on average consumption.  

I read recently that the Italian water board looses more than 50% of its supply through leaks and that doesn’t account for water lost between the meter and the consumer which is probably another 25%, what a huge waste.

Happily the solar shower is in use, veggies are being planted, factor 50 is being applied and Sunday we had a day of decadence that included a lunchtime bottle of prosecco and a new book begun.  Those Mitford girls have always fascinated me.

Saturday, 24 April 2021

That’s more like it

We are back on track after some cool weather and dreary days. Today it was 18 degrees, wall to wall sunshine, we are all so happy, humans and cats have been outside all day.

Yesterday we bought our vegetable plants at the local agricultural shop.  Two types of tomatoes and yellow peppers, we are also growing from seed cherry tomatoes and red peppers.  We got cucumbers, aubergines, radishes, basil and more courgettes as the old seeds we used didn’t all germinate,  that’s a good start.  I also picked up a couple of replacement dipeldenia for my summer pots but when I went to plant them the ones I thought had died are showing signs of life.  In fact everything seems to have survived, both in the ground and in pots, what was considered quite a hard winter except maybe my bougainvillea.  I know we’re a bit too high to grow them,  I’ve lost plants before but I haven’t give up on this one yet I’ll just keep waiting.  Today I’ve been planting and arranging pots with the replacements and various geranium cuttings I took a few weeks ago, just my kind of day.

Mr FF has been working on the upgraded solar shower, he assures me it will be a new improved model, functionally if not aesthetically, and soon ready for use, the modesty screen will take a little longer.   And yes there was a rip in the shirt he was wearing, it’s out of sight but one sleeve is coming away from the body, I’ll bet it goes into the next wash for further use, a man who constructed a solar shower from old bits and pieces wont throw away a shirt like that.

Finally the wisteria has decided it’s time to bloom, not completely out yet but getting there.  The orchard wild flowers are coming too, mostly cow parsley, buttercups and sweet peas at present but lots to happen, Grigio and I sometimes walk round twice a day spotting new treasures.    The wild orchid is out, this isn’t a great photo but it’s the best I can do with the iPad.  

And best of all Giovanni and Milena our lovely neighbours are back from Rome, they called to say hello dressed in warm coats and were surprised to see me in a sleeveless t shirt,  cropped trousers and flip flops. It really feels like the long lonely winter is over, I’m washing our winter clothes to pack away, I’m looking forward to seeing our neighbours lights up above us in the evening instead of being surrounded by darkness and empty space, and to hearing them chatting in the day time.  I’m looking forward but no longer wishing the time away.

Positivity is back thank you sun.

Monday, 19 April 2021

The promise of better weather


It’s been grim for about a week, cool and often wet.  We needed rain so that was good, we’ve had enough now but it doesn’t stop.  Other weather has included hail, thunder and lightning, today there’s snow on the top of the mountain.  

It’s often the same, we think it’s fine to sow seeds, buy a few tomato plants, now we are covering tender seedlings with fleece or playing musical pots putting everything into the cellar overnight, moving everything out during the day.  

We had a Skype call with friends in Yorkshire yesterday, they sitting in their lovely garden bathed in sunshine, us indoors wearing several jumpers.  The forecast is for temperatures to improve gradually, currently its 6 degrees,  there is talk of high 20s next week, I’m wishing my life away wanting the sun back, wanting the wisteria to flower, wanting to plant up the summer pots.    I thought we could put away our jumpers and socks, I am so sick of wearing the few winter clothes I have here and been looking through my summer wardrobe with longing, I’d like a heatwave please.

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.

Sunday, 7 March 2021

Easily pleased

I bought a tub of vegetable stock the other week.  I prefer the loose powder to individually foil wrapped, oddly squishy cubes, at home I buy Marigold organic bouillon powder.  When I opened this Knorr product there was inside a miniature  scoop, the same size as a stock cube.  How clever is that, brilliant.  I hadn’t read the small print but it actually says on the carton con practico dosatore, with practical dispenser, molto practico indeed.

I can’t tell you how much I love this idea, the scoop is tiny, like something from a dolls tea service.   I shall buy another tub so I have a scoop to bring home as I’m not sure if this product is available in the U.K. or of a scoop is included. How did I get to 72 without one of these essential pieces of kitchenalia.

Tuesday, 2 March 2021

For my next trick

We woke this morning about 6 am to what sounded like a door swinging open.  We both lay in a daze for a while as you do when woken abruptly.  I took a look at our bedroom door, last week Grigio had managed to climb up our dressing gowns hung on the back and was balanced on the top edge of the door.  Mr FF lifted her down. This time she must have climbed up the same way and launched herself from the door edge onto the top of our wardrobe, which is high, the photo was taken from our bed.

We left her there for a while, when she got restless Mr FF went for the small steps but she wouldn’t come to him so we ignored her again though more sleep was impossible.  Then she started preparing herself for a launch, presumably onto our bed with the possibility of landing on the tiled floor. He went for the proper stepladder and got her down, she was so pleased with herself purring and parading around.

Her love of heights is worrying, Grigio is ingenious at getting into precarious places and it never crosses her mind how she will get down again.

Thursday, 25 February 2021

Spring is certainly in the air

We are having the most gorgeous weather, temperatures in the high teens but feeling warmer,  blue skies, no frost. This has caused me to garden furiously, tidying, cutting back shrubs which I should probably leave alone for now, moving pots out of their sheltered positions,  sowing seeds, ruining my hands.  I am sleeping like a log and having a great time.

I’m not the only one with spring fever.  A cat has been calling round, one we’ve seen before and thought was a male, it’s quite large and in good condition.   From the day long howling and Enrico’s reaction we thought we got that wrong and it must be female.  Friday night Enrico slept out, which he does sometimes, but was around during the next day joining in the continuing cats chorus.  Grigio was quite put out as were we, it just went on and on.  Saturday night Enrico slept out again, Sunday we didn’t see him at all and were starting to worry,   He returned Monday evening and slept a lot.

The visiting vocal cat called again on Tuesday afternoon but Enrico wasn’t interested and it took off down the road  Then Mr FF reported that a cat had sprayed at the entrance to his grotto, he works with the garage door open.   The dust sheet over the table, covering amongst many things the spare bags of cat biscuits had been disturbed and on further investigation he found a packet of food had been torn open and biscuits were scattered around.   It is a male so why is it pestering another male although not aggressively and a neutered female who is bewildered, why doesn’t Enrico see it off, the Italian cat world is a mystery to us. 

Back to the garden.  This is the first time I’ve really experienced spring and I’m very pleased.   I’m not sure I want to spend another winter here but I’d be happy to be back from now onwards to enjoy watching my plants spring into life.  Plenty of buds about to burst, the apricot and plum trees will be flowering soon, perennials are emerging, the ants and lizards are about, it really is quite special.  On Monday I was wearing a short sleeved t shirt to potter around. Four men came into our road to take down some trees above the olives, all wearing big jackets, hats and gloves.  Even though they were working hard bringing the wood down the hillside they remained fully clothed. I bet they thought I was the crazy one with my bare arms but I hope they also thought I have a very nice garden.

Monday, 22 February 2021

Man at work

The biggest part of the garage wall is done, cleaned, repaired and repointed. It looks splendid.  The ex garage will be a wonderful workshop/laundry room/wine cellar and while I am heartily sick of all the dust which is everywhere despite the protection the improvement will be worth the continual house cleaning.

Now Mr FF has moved the grotto to the other end of the wall and is doing the same again.  I’ve had a bit of trouble getting him in there since we’ve had such nice weather but the end is in sight.  He will box round the various pipes at the top of this section, though knowing him he’ll still repair and repoint the part that will be out of sight.  

I did ask him if he was ok for me to take a snap and post it, he was pleased to oblige, so here is your first and probably only glimpse inside this secret place, enjoy.  

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Top Cat

Our Sunday walk in zero degrees but bright sun took us halfway up the mountain to the area where the paragliders we often see over our house launch themselves into the sky. We sat there briefly as the view was stunning and the air bracing.    Very soon the Siberia wind penetrated my four layers of clothing, t shirt, wool jumper, fleece and padded jacket so we didn’t linger.

We encountered few people out but on the mountain at least half a dozen unaccompanied dogs, mostly of the large sheepdog variety, and one horse wandering on the road.  There were a lot of cars parked outside the village hotel which was open for lunch.  We’d forgotten it was Valentine’s Day until we saw a couple come out of the restaurant the lady carrying a single red rose.

I was very pleased to see that despite such cold days and minus 6 degrees overnight, the first blossom is out, both pink and white.  I have no idea what it is, I think maybe a wild cherry, it is all over the hillside and down in the valley among the olives, there is even a small tree opposite our house.  I’ll keep an eye on it and see if any fruit sets.  

We came home for a pot of tea, to warm up in front of the stove and to rescue Grigio who was once again climbed a tree and jumped onto the roof of the house  where she was stuck.   We must prune that tree before it bursts into bloom, or better still just after, to stop her using it as access.

Tuesday morning Grigio found a new place to risk her life.  She probably jumped from the house roof onto the terrace chimney stack.  While Mr FF went for a ladder to get her down she jumped back onto the house roof and I was able to let her in through the bathroom window as usual.  I wonder if she’d like to join the village paragliding club.

Saturday, 13 February 2021

Grey days

Back in November I showed you the blue sky

Today it looked like this

We have been in the cloud all day, the temperature has only been two or three degrees and it’s forecast to drop to minus 6 over the next two nights.  I’ve wrapped my tender plants in fleece and moved pots to sheltered places.  

It’s not forever, by next weekend temperatures should be kinder so I am hoping this will be the end of winter.  And it’s not all misery today, after looking out at this for hours 

Just before sunset the cloud lifted, there is snow on the mountain and the mist in the valley turned red.

Mr FF knows nothing of this, he’s been working in the grotto all day and says I shouldn’t start dinner too early, sounds like a long day.  I bet he’s made great progress while I have done nothing much.  Grey just isn’t my colour and whilst miserable weather isn’t my favourite topic during these lockdown days there is little else to talk about although Piero our neighbouring shepherd called by this afternoon with a gift of his ricotta, kindness that brightened our day.  

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

A solar powered week

Last week we enjoyed glorious warm sunny weather.  It’s such a delight to open our bedroom shutters in the morning, to feel the heat coming through as soon as the windows are open, once the shutters are fastened back the bedroom is full of light and warmth.  I just know it’s going to be a good day.

Tuesday morning the whole valley was in cloud and we were in sunshine, all the little towns had disappeared, just look how beautiful it was.

A week of breakfast outside of course, afterwards I delay my garden walk until the pots are washed and the house has had a quick tidy.  I check every day if my little daffodils are flowering, finally they are. I have quite a few in the borders as over the years I’ve bought pots of them for the terrace and once they finish flowering planted them in the ground.  I haven’t seen a lot of spring bulbs about,  no snowdrops or aconites but I have seen growing wild nearby paperwhite narcissi which are lovely.  They are under the olive trees and on one walk had been planted round a little roadside shrine to the Madonna. In the UK they tend to be forced as Christmas houseplants and after that never do well. 

A friend we met in a walk told me he’s already started pruning his fruit trees, he says it’s time as the sap is already rising. We chatted about the beautiful weather, I’m British I have to do that, and he told me that 21 February is considered the start of spring down in the valley but higher up where we live we have to wait another month until 21 March.  I expect that comes from the same rule book that says 26 January is the coldest day and we don’t plant our vegetables before 26 April.  

Spring was certainly been in the air last week, it was wonderful.  I like the way I got so excited about the daffodils measuring the season as I normally would in the UK when in fact I have a large trailing geranium in a pot that has flowered right through winter in a sheltered position and the forsythia has had a few buds open on and off since Christmas.  This spring that is coming is all new to me.

And as if we weren’t feeling super powered already, Friday morning we had a call from our Ilkley doctors surgery, just 10 minutes walk from the penthouse,  asking if we could go in the next day for our first Covid vaccinations.  Mr FF explained our situation, they said we could phone when we get back and go in straight away for our jabs.  What excellent efficient service, we were then told the weather back home was awful, rain, mist and cold.  

This week there is heavy snow in parts of the U.K. it’s cooler here and we have rain but some blue sky.   However we were so cheered by our spring week when temperatures reached 15 degrees on the mountain that we are not complaining just looking forward.