Saturday, 30 April 2011

Fri 29 May - 'Pain is just a sensation leaving the body'

The Royal Wedding past us by.  Very weird to think of all the celebrations back home, gleaned from all the Twitter and Facebook posts, but life continued here as normal.   

We had such a good day.  A day of ticking off the boxes.  We were up super early.  Getting the hang of this crazy culture, we were actually at the shops before they opened.  We found KP's trail shoes, birthday presents for Sian, a telephone extension cable, computer printer, a couple of random CDs and all before 10am!  How cool is that?!  We even looked at vacuum cleaners and mini fridges and decided the expense wasn't worth it.  

We picked up a couple of marmalate cornetti's on the way home and we were back and having a belated breakfast, happy with the morning's booty, before the bells struck midday.

Enjoying a much needed dry day for once, I got the washing hung out and hit the field with wellies (to protect my legs from marauding snakes) and rake. KP followed close behind with the mower.  My snakes in the field suspicions were well and truly confirmed.  Yes, we have snakes, but also, yes, they are more afraid of us than we of them.  KP and his mower disturbed the biggest black snake ever, snoozing on yesterday's warm cut grass, but it scarpered.  Pronto.  

Our little helper
Determined to finish it today, I just raked and raked regardless of what might be lurking beneath the piled up grass.   My shoulders shrieked at me to stop and I had blisters on blisters, but I wouldn't stop.  Not a chance.  No way was I going back to this tomorrow.  I've had enough now.  I found myself chanting my old training mantra: "pain is just a sensation leaving your body", and all of a sudden it all made sense.  This is what I've been training for!  Not for racing, but for raking!  Of course.  Silly me, and I thought it was all for me to be an Ironman.  Doh.

Chill out zone

So I raked and KP mowed.  All afternoon.  But we did it!  At last.  Field cleared.  Sorted.  Done.  And KP rewarded himself by putting up the hammock and gloating as I cleared the last of the thankfully snake free piles of cut grass.  When done, we just couldn't stop looking at the finished product, the fruits of our labour.  In the words of Lilian Beckwith, it looked "bootiful just". 

"Bootiful just"

In just four weeks we have cleared the barns, stripped roofs and timbers of old tin, cleared a chicken run, cut an acre of knee high grass, decorated a bedroom, renovated a bathroom, made some good contacts, made good beginnings with the italian language and made many new friends.  And have had a shed load of fun doing it.  

Time to celebrate by soaking my work weary limbs in a deep hot bath.  Or, rather, six inches.  And that's being generous.  Shallow it may have been, but it was heaven. 

I got supper in the oven and we went into the village for our nightly Italian lesson in the bar, and weren't disappointed. 

Serramonacesca, from the newly cleared olive grove/camping spot

Friday, 29 April 2011

Thurs 28 Apr - Snakes & Exploration

The skies looked a bit brighter this morning.  After three days of almost constant rain, the gaps in the bleak heavy skies were a welcome sight indeed.    So, with the lighter skies and still feeling the euphoria of having completed our first guest room, we treated ourselves to a day of indulgence.  Just doing whatever we fancied.  And what we fancied right then was to take the bikes up to Roccamonte.  

Convinced that somehow, somewhere there must be a bakers in that little village, we went off in search of it and a couple of cornetties for breakfast.  We found it!  Of course! In the pizza takeaway!  Where else would it be?  And we weren't disappointed.  What an array of cakes, pastries, breads and croissants.  Hoorah!  Now we know where to come for breakfast when we have people staying.  I knew we'd find it.  

The next mission was to find a cashpoint, so we continued our exploration of the little village and stumbled across the post office.  This place has it all.  Everything you need in one small place: hardware shop, three grocers, butchers, geletaria, bar, pizza takeaway, restaurant, bakers, post office and cash point.    Except the cash point wasn't working.  Ho hum.  Still enjoying the not rainy skies and being out on the bikes for the first time in days, we decided to extend our little trip up to Pretoro.  The emphasis being on the up.  And up and up.  


As today seemed to be becoming a day of exploring what we have on our doorstep, we parked the bikes at the bottom of the village and wandered up to the top, winding our way through the narrow higgledy piggledy streets.  Just lovely.  An ancient village cut and carved out of the mountain.  Not quite so well supplied as Roccamonte, but far more picturesque. And, very exciting, there's a festa on Sunday complete with processions, snakes, singing, dancing and fireworks!   

What a great morning.  Just cycling and exploring.  Going back was even better, free wheeled just about all the way.  And still no rain.  But the grass had grown, big time.  If we don't get the mower on it soon we'll be back to strimming the whole lot all over again.  And I hadn't finished raking up the grass from the last strimming session before the rains came.  So what to do first? Rake or mow, mow or rake?  KP being saved from the raking by his very convenient hay fever.   The matter was decided for me.  Testing the rakeability of the still damp, but warm, grass I turned a big chunk over, and shot across the other side of the field!  Quick as a flash.  I should have known better. I knew it would happen when I stopped looking.  A snake!   

Well, actually, it was probably only a slow worm but, boy, did it make me jump, scream and run.  Poor snake-come-worm, probably gave him the fright of his life too.  But I wasn't going to hang around to find out if he had any big brothers.  The raking can wait.  So out came the mower.  KP strimmered all the edges, borders, paths and impossible to reach with the mower areas, whilst I had a jolly old time creating whirls and swirls and spirals.  I do like mowing.  But I did it in my wellies, just in case… Didn't fancy any more snake-come-worm encounters.

Tools were downed at 4 as our next planned point of exploration was Guardiagrele.  Our closest town with a touristy feel to it.  Being a gateway to the hills and mountains we thought this might be the place to find an outdoor sports shop where KP could replace his rapidly disintegrating North Face trail shoes.  Ha ha.  Not a chance.  

But we did find a beautiful town, lots of outside eating areas, artisan shops, crafts and galleries.  And the church bells!  Never have I ever seen so many!  What a sound too.  All conversation has to stop as they peel out the time.  Now that is a church I wouldn't like to live near.  You'd certainly get your early morning Sunday call!   
We may not have found any North Face shoes, or anything loosely resembling them, but we did come away with a pot of sage, a fancy iron lamp, an old bronze seven candle candelabra and somewhere to recommend to our guests to visit.  

What a good day we had, not at all ruined by the fact that the rain was now pouring down again, and cascading off the canopy of the little Serra bar where we stopped off for our usual quick drink and conversation practice before going home.  At least the weather gave us something to talk about and practice our Italian on.  That and the Royal Wedding tomorrow, which the Italians seem to be rather excited about.  Apart from the fact that there will be no children at the wedding.  

Of course, they're right.  Children should be at weddings.  But we still suffer from our Victorian roots, and try and hide them away.  How silly.

A rather nice candelabra

Wed 27 Apr - An Artichoke and Legs in the Air

Ha ha!  We did it!  We have actually finished the guest bedroom and bathroom!  Thats it, all done.  We can now have people to stay.  And no more ghastly furnishings shopping trips (at least for a while), which is how we spent yesterday.  And that makes me very happy indeed.

OK, the curtains are a bit bright, and the bathroom is very, well, retro, but we're proud of it.  It's clean, it's fresh, on budget, and ready for Phil and Sharon on Sunday. 

Phil and Sharon travel.  Lots.  And only stay in 5 star hotels.  Sharon has more shoes than Imelda Marcos, more bling than Katie Price and lives the luxuries of Elizabeth Taylor (or as she did), in fact, she reminds me very much of Elizabeth Taylor.  But they're fun, we like them very much and can't wait to see them.  It will, however, be interesting to see how they (ie Sharon) cope with our ethos of rural, earthy simplicity.   

We may not be able to offer them The Ritz (or even want to, for that matter), we may all have to squash round the fire in our pink armchairs and tatty kitchen chairs (now resplendent in puffy foam filled tie on pads), and eat off old chipped crockery where nothing matches, but we will be able to show them another, far more simple and alternative, way of living. 

We're a million miles away from the rat race (five cars and its rush hour), and the dreaded four C's (consumerism, commercialism, consumption and capitalism), which means things are, admittedly, sometimes frustrating as a result.  Try buying a duvet when its not winter, silly me, searching for a local supplier on the internet, or finding an outdoor retailer!  But life is good and getting richer by the day.  But we're used to it, and we have warned them.  
Rush hour
And so we stood back, admired our handiwork and had a relaxed, chilled evening basking in the glow of one project being ticked off. 

One tiny project, however, that wasn't quite as successful was my venture into the culinary realms of cooking artichokes.  The only way to get by here is to eat as the Italians do, no other ingredients being available.  

Fabulously fresh, beautifully pungent and bursting with flavour, but it has meant I've had to get out of my kitchen comfort zone and experiment with a few different meats and veggies.   Raddichio, we braised with success last week, but my artichokes tonight were an absolute disaster.  

Following the instructions in "Simple Italian" (not quite so simple, as it turned out), I stripped the tough outer leaves, chopped off the pointy bit at the top, paired the stalk down to a pyramid, scraped out the "choke", and had nothing left.  The compost bin (and no doubt the badger who raids it) did very well, however.   Resorting to the dreaded You Tube, I then disappeared upstairs (to our makeshift office, still no wifi) and watched a very nasal, smug and irritating American perfectly prune an artichoke, but then she did have a melon baller which I do not.  

So, back down stairs and into the kitchen complete with instructions, and with sharp pairing knife in hand (well, sort of) and a pair of "sanitised kitchen scissors" (bit of a joke really when your cooking surface is an old, rescued pine table covered in chopping marks and dubious looking stains).  

The finished product looked slightly better, but the tough outer leaves left on both of our plates told me I needed to be more brutal with my pairing knife.  Or not bother and just eat more ratatouille and radichio.  

But we'd had a good day and both settled into our pink armchairs, cat stretched out on the rug by the fire, legs in the air (Cat, not me). Me sinking fast into Italian grammar and KP disappearing into World War II.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Mon 25 Apr - Short, but not at all sweet

Here is our day: 
Get up, see dull grey skies.  Brainwave.  Best day ever for doing Ikea run.  If there is such a thing as a best day ever for going to Ikea, particularly when its 150 kilometres away in Ancona. 

But, hey, you do these things when you have shed loads of bath mats, bins, bowls and curtain poles to buy.  And a rather small budget.  A necessary evil, one may say. 

Should have known better. 

We drove for two hours, TWO HOURS!  to get there.   

It wasn't because it was absolutely heaving, it being Bank Holiday Monday and all that.  It was CLOSED.  


I'd checked the Internet, even emailed a helpful online assistant called Anna (who is going to die).  I checked and double checked my translation "24/25 Aprile, siamo aperto per la Befana", "We are open for the Epiphany".  

They weren't.  

And I couldn't even phone anyone to shout at them, not having yet got to the "How to Complain" bit in "Italian for Dummies". 

So we had an ice cream, and drove all the way home.  

Late afternoon and the day has now gone.  Wasted. 

I consoled myself by painting the bathroom.  Great. 

Thanks Ikea.  You owe us one.  Big time.

Sun 24 April - Plunge Pools & Wheelies

We woke up this morning to the many bells ringing out across the valley and the hills.  Easter Day, the celebration of the Resurrection.  Neither of us religious at all, we surprised ourselves about how different we felt about today.  Never before have I seen Easter celebrated like this, without the blatant commercialism of chocolate eggs and Easter bunnies.  Just a community coming together with a common bond.  

The road to the Blockhaus
There was a distinctly different feel about today to that of Good Friday.  Friday felt very heavy and sombre, but today it had lifted.  Today was undoubtedly a very joyous day.  We, however, were rather weary, and a bit of homesickness for my family caught me by surprise.  The weather was also somewhat dull so, rather than joining Bill on his crazy cycle up into the low lying clouds and snow hanging over the Blockhaus at over 2400 metres, we decided to take advantage of the grey weather to crack on with the inside jobs. 

So the bathroom was prepared for it's spruce up, the balcony railings were painted and the bedroom furniture rearranged so all our belongings are coming together in one room.   All to the sound of the Easter bells.  

Eventually, we decided to call it a day and turned in for supper.  But the evening was still young and we sat outside in awe at the mist and the night clouds coming down and swirling amongst the hills.  Somewhere there was a party.  Music and laughter could be heard echoing around the valley.  As it appeared to be coming from the Abbey, the temptation and curiosity were just too much to resist, so we went off to explore.    

Serra plunge pools
The party was the youngsters of the village having a great time on the sports field, dancing and singing by the lights of their cars and with barbecues going.  The Abbey just along the lane, however, was deserted.  As we were there, we thought we may as well explore and try and find the tombs, even though dusk had almost given way to darkness.  We didn't find the tombs (bit of a relief really), but we did find the waterfalls and plunge pools.  Utterly spectacular, particularly in the semi-darkness against the illuminated the Abbey.  One to return to on a warmer, sultry evening with a picnic and wine. 

Not wanting to go back home quite so soon, we stopped off at the bar and it was absolutely buzzing.  All the usual suspects were there, plus many more.  Even the female contingent were out in force!  The young ones that is, which was great to see, but still none of the elder matriarchs.  Probably at home enjoying the piece and quiet after a busy family day.  

Church / Bar Piazza
Everyone was out on the little piazza in front of the church and we were happy to receive the many Buona Seras as we arrived.  A great spot for people watching, we made the most of it and had a lot of fun observing the hierarchies and community dynamics unfolding.  There was the "in crowd" of the old boys all crammed round one table, not playing cards for once but with plenty of chat, and distinctly smarter than usual.  Their usual workaday clothes having been replaced by their Sunday best, still very rural and most likely having been worn for many Sundays past, but clearly not for working in. nTheir deep tans and even deeper wrinkles could, no doubt, tell many tales.  

There was the hopeful mayor to be (The Major) and his disciples of "strong" men standing up by the outside bar, openly displaying their elevated position within the commune.  And of course their were the youngsters with all their colourful strutting, preening, flirting and banter providing the entertainment.  A smart car (Audi TT's seem to be the posing car of choice) would pull up next to the piazza for all the admire.  Out would step a guy from behind the wheel and strut over to the group, all puffy chested and proud, and with his girl enjoying her elevated status next to her successful man.  But never behind the wheel of his car.  All Strut, strut, strutting.   

A motor bike would turn up and attract a group of admirers, again more puffy chested strutting and preening before the motorbike rider would disappear in a roar of engines, pulling a big wheelie down the road.

All in good spirits and great to watch. 

Serramonacesca at Easter.  Happy times.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Sat 23 April - A Pagan Temple?

Today was just one of those days that worked.  Sometimes it just goes like that, starts well and just gets better and better.  

We actually managed a nice slow start to the day.  No early morning visitors, no crazy phone calls from the UK.  No nothing.  Just us in bed with the doors open and the cool breeze.  Fresh melon, kiwi and yoghurt, toast and coffee.  Me joining in with KP's Learn Italian.  Quite amusing. 

We did an hour or so of the usual (raking and painting), then I, fed up with not wearing flip flops because my ties are such a mess, had a girlie moment and painted my nails outside in the sunshine.   

Eventually, we wandered up the hill to Ian and Carole's for a birthday party lunch and a very pleasant afternoon we had.  We met some new people, all very nice and all very interesting. Mike, the pharmaceutical scientist and his wife, who have a place in the square, Steve and Jackie (very Penelope Keith, complete with flowing dress, big floppy hot and voice to match) from Cambridge and their son, Bill, a mushroom forager and cyclist (good guy), and his girlfriend Marina, an American Human Rights lawyer.  A great afternoon.  

We learnt from Bill that there was some sort of soirĂ©e tonight at the Abbey, Gregorian Monks, he thought.  Now that we couldn't miss.  The Abbey, St Liberatore alla Maiella, is just stunningly serene.  Built in the 9th century, nestled in the hills behind Serramonacesca, it has been beautifully preserved.  We've never been inside so what a way to see it, to the backdrop of Gregorian Monks chanting.  We knew we were in for a treat, but had absolutely no idea how special this was going to be. 

St Liberatore alla Maiella
But first we had to get there.  The Abbey is about a 30 minute walk by road and, theoretically, half that distance as the crow flies.   Across country.  Now, there is a very nice little track that goes from the back of us, into the Maiella, around the Tor, across the river and comes in at the back of the Abbey.  A very pleasant, if rather long, walk.   

A slight difference in understanding of the route we were to take meant my expected very pleasant evening amble to the Abbey was replaced by a crashing through the undergrowth, getting garrotted by brambles, sliding down banks attempting to follow KP's "as the crow flies short cut".  Don't worry he says, all we need do is follow the pylons.  What flippin pylons?!  We can't even see the sky through this undergrowth we're crawling through, let alone pylon cables.  

Eventually we bashed our way through and appeared out the other side, just before the Abbey, looking like the crazy eccentrics we clearly were at that moment in time.  Dishevelled, muddy, hot and sweaty for an evening of culture. 

But wow.  Just take my breath away.  Expecting the ornate and elaborate of a catholic church, the Abbey was one of stunningly beautiful simplicity.  Absolutely, without any shadow of doubt (although I'll need to check this), this Abbey began it's life as a pagan temple.  

Awestruck we could have sat, stared, experienced and absorbed, with or without the Gregorian Monks.   And then the Gregorian Monks arrived.  

Not Gregorian chanting at all (although there was some), but a very dramatic medieval play.  We have absolutely no idea what was going on but it was most definitely a play of passion. 

With the medieval musical instruments, lute playing, drum beating and dancing animals, it also appeared very paganistic in origin, but it it did finish off with the crucifixion of Christ.  

Whatever it was, whatever it was about, it was magical.  

We bumped into Bill and Marina on the way out, walked into Serra and finished the evening with them over a couple of glasses of wine in the bar.  Nice people.  Bill's off cycling up to the Blockhaus tomorrow, a long, long way up to 2500m, of at least 3 hours, if not more, of slogging pedalling, probably into the snow line.  

Sounds good and very tempting, but I'm not sure if we'll be joining him.  Maybe when we're not quite so workaday weary.  But then, you never know...

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Fri 22 Apr - Squatters & Pigs

What a start to the day!  7.15am and still sleep bleary as I'm making a cup of tea, I pick up KP's phone to see a text from Ant, our flat sitter: 

"Arrived back from holiday last night and saw TV on and a light on in your room, felt uncomfortable so left". 


My blood ran cold as I felt every last drop of it drain from my face.  We have squatters, or burglars, or maybe even the Lannings (previous bad tenants who needed a court order to evict) have come back?  

A similar reaction from KP, who sat bolt upright in bed.  What the f***k?!  A few moments of utter shock and panic followed as the terrifying news slowly sank in.  What the hell do we do?  It's 6.30am in the UK, a bank holiday, no one will be up.  Someone's in/been in our flat.  Shit.   KP tried to rouse Ant, but without joy.  Straight to voicemail.  Damned voicemail.  Nothing for it but to phone Horsham Police.  They were incredibly helpful, very pragmatic and said they'd go round and deal with whatever they found.  It would be forced entry, so no problem getting anyone out.   It made us feel slightly better knowing it was being dealt with, but we now just had a waiting game. 

As we waited we threw around a few thoughts.  Who could it be, how could they have got in, what if they smash the place up?  Or maybe there's another explanation.... ? 

Maybe Ant was mistaken?  

We finally got hold of Ant.  "Are you sure you turned everything off before you went away"?  Could you have left the TV and a light on?  Our TV does have a nasty habit of turning itself on if it's left on standby.  He didn't think so, but couldn't be sure, said he'd go round and have a look.  Oh great.  

Half an hour later, and all is fine.  The police were cancelled, and it was rather lucky for Ant that he was 1200 miles away!   Most of the morning was now gone and we were well and truly up.  Apart from Cat, oblivious to everything who had somehow wormed her way onto our bed and was a curled up purring little bundle.  Right in the middle of the duvet.  I think her time of TLC is over.  Back to feralness I think, most definitely says KP.  But only after she's woken up... 

St Onofrio
We did a couple of hours work (me raking, KP sanding the balcony railings) before packing some sandwiches and heading for the hills.  A nice little route was picked out that took us past the chapel of St Onofrio and up and up towards Pass Lanciano.  Two & a half hours there and two & a half back.  Perfect.  As there was still rather a lot of snow on the top, warm clothes and waterproofs were packed too.  

An absolutely fabulous walk we had.  St Onofrio, nestled into the rock, looked as serene as ever, it's spirituality felt all around like a low lying mist.  KP rang the bell for his mum and we wandered on.  And got lost.  

Somehow we'd ambled onto another trail that looked on the map (according to our map reading) as though it followed the valley down.  But it ended up going over the top of the goddam mountain, skirting the edge of Passo Lanciano, and then finally down towards Pretoro.  But what a walk!  Certainly one to recommend and go in the Guide Book, but not for the faint hearted.  We skirted deep gorges along narrow, crumbling tracks, climbed hills that made your calfs burn and scream, slid down banks grabbing passing branches to slow the descent.  We got lost in a dense beech wood, with far too many cinghiale (wild boar) churned up leaf and soil signs for comfort.  And the bear prints in the soft ground were just the icing on the cake.  Oh boy, keep calm, we've got our waterproofs and sandwiches.  

Try turning it the other way round
A little lost
Eventually, and just in time (to ward off the rumblings of a bit of a building leadership dispute), KP spotted some rocks that appeared to be in a row guiding the way out.  Don't be bloody stupid, I said, there's rocks all around the place!  But he was right (this time), and saw as safely out of the woods to a fabulous clearing.  

If it wasn't so hazy, the views would have been spectacular.  

And then came the moment we (or, rather, I) have absolutely dreaded. 

Big, big, rustling to the side.  No more than 10 metres away.  No mistaking it.  Foraging snuffling, shuffling sounds.  Cinghiale.  Oh shit.  Only time they're dangerous, so we've been told, is when they've got babies.   And here we were, miles from anywhere, with KP trying to get a closer look (totally nuts, I was looking for the nearest tree) and we're faced with a mother and 12, yes 12! little piglets.  She was massive!  Far far bigger than we'd expected. And then she saw us. Panic on all parts, 12 little stripy piglets scattered in all directions. Much crashing through the bushes, sometimes coming closer, sometimes going away, as the piglets were rounded up and whisked off to a place of safety.  A long way from us. 

There were moments when I really thought we were done for, expecting this huge prehistoric, tusk clad, beast to come charging at us with a mother's fury.  But no, all she wanted to do was get as far from us as possible.  Good girl. 

What a treat (when it was all over).    

Six hours from when we started our "little" walk, we were finally rubbing our sore feet and tending our weary limbs over a cold cold beer in the garden. 

Nice one.

Thurs 21 Apr - No More Kittens

Today was a very sad day.  Poor, poor, Cat. 

I knew something was wrong when she appeared early in the morning as usual, in ominous silence.  The most vocal cat I have ever known, she leaves you in no doubt whatsoever when she's around.  Her meow literally bounces off the walls and echoes around the hills.  But this morning she was silent, not a sound.  She wound herself in and out of my legs, sniffed at her food, and stayed as quiet as a mouse.  Eventually, she went away again, leaving her food untouched and me pondering the possibility of her maybe suffering from a post natal infection. 

If only that was all it was.  We could have treated that, made her better.  

The cause of her despair became apparent as we were sitting drinking coffee with Max and the geometra on the terrace.  Cat ran passed and into the house with a kitten in her mouth.  And then again, another one.  KP followed her this time and watched her disappear into the cupboard under the stairs.  He was convinced the kittens were dead, I was convinced otherwise.  Kittens always hang lifeless when being carried by their mother.  But KP, so sadly, was right.  

When Cat was done, and Max had gone, I made a fuss of Cat outside whilst KP checked under the stairs.  Four brown and white kittens in our climbing bag, and all dead.  Each with nasty, injuries.   Poor, poor, Cat.  Don't anyone ever tell me cats don't grieve.  This little cat was certainly suffering.  She never returned to the cupboard under the stairs, but never left our sides all day either.  Where we were, cat followed, looking so so sad, and every now and then giving a very low mournful cry.  

We spent the day continuing down in the bottom orchard.  Me raking, KP mowing, pruning and lopping.  Cat just lying on the warm cut grass, watching us and staying close.  It was a beautiful day, so very tranquil, quiet and warm, but even the sight of a beautiful, graceful eagle circling high up on the thermals above failed to lift our spirits.  Sometimes, life can be very harsh indeed. 

Cat did pick up a little as the day went on and, by the evening, started to eat again.  We left her at home as we did the dreaded supermarket run to stock up with enough to see us through the next four days when everything shuts down for Easter.   

Serra by night
Hearing that there will be an Easter procession at 8pm this evening in the village, we wandered up to see what was happening.  Nothing, as it turned out, until 10pm.  Far too late for us. 

So we just had a quick drink in the bar, a bit of banter and chat with the locals, and KP, with no shame whatsoever, making a point of chatting up the hopeful new mayor (after the elections in May). 

Back at home, Cat was waiting for us and joined us for the evening, thoroughly enjoying the open fire and our pink armchairs. 

Just for tonight.  Tomorrow she must return to being feral. 

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Wed 20 Apr - A Hissy Fit & A Bike Race

A big strimming day today.  Ian came round to give us a hand clearing the bottom field and, in true Ian style,  that meant an early start. But we were ready for him this time.  No more dawn surprises.  

By 8am there was stereo strimming coming the bottom field.  It was hot work, but they both worked like Trojans.  I raked whilst they strimmed.  In no time at all they had the whole area cleared.  What a difference!  It looks like a proper orchard now, all ready for a few tents dotted around.  Good job jobbed.  Now all we had to do is keep it down low enough for the lawn mower to tackle.  Or get a few sheep... 
At midday we had our meeting with Fabio.  Not particularly looking forward to it, we got cleaned up and arrived at his office on time, only to be kept waiting for over half an hour.  He hasn't been on time for any of our appointments.  

When he did finally arrive, the first half of the meeting was Fabio expressing his huge sadness and regret at not having had the opportunity to amend his quote.  Why didn't we go back to him to so he could adjust it?  By 50%?!   If it wasn't so over the top in the first place, and if he hadn't taken over 2 months (and much chasing from us), to get the quote done, we may have done.  But we were very happy with our decision to go with Max and the local geometra, it was just regrettable that we had clearly, but unintentionally, hurt his feelings.  We apologised profusely for any hurt or offence caused, that was never our intention, but we refused to budge.  

Once that bit was over, next came the question of his bill.  Again, many words were used and much time was spent by Fabio in expressing his deep regret for being put into such a position.  Yeh, ok ok, just get to the point, how much?  I don't think it's the Italian way to get straight to the point and he was clearly thrown by having to come to a decision without going round and round the houses and covering the same old ground.  Many times.  

Getting a little weary by now, and very bored, we tried to help him out (and us, as we were bound to end up disputing it) by asking him to itemise his bill, detailing the time spent on the project.   

I don't quite understand why this threw him into a fresh tizzy, but it did.  Hands were thrown up into the air, his expression was one of great sadness and despair until he finally brought his hands back under control and put his head in them.  He wrote down one item.  Eight visits to our house to meet with Telecom to sort out our broken phone line.  

And then it started all over again.  Hands in the air, head in hands, papers picked up, flapped around, slapped down.  Figures punched into calculator, head back in hands, hands back up into the air.  We just watched incredulously.  Was it really such a difficult request? 

Eventually a figure was scribbled onto a piece of paper and put in front of us.  Amazingly, and to our utter astonishment, it was a very fair sum for the works done.  Greatly relieved that the matter was not going to become protracted, we shook on it, confirmed that we were still friends and were very happy to be finally on our way with a promise to drop the cash round next week.  Always cash. 

Very glad to be home again, we changed back into our working clothes and spent the rest of the afternoon pottering over small, but very pleasant, jobs.  I got a few more veggies into my little plot and it is now full.  All they need do now is grow, but there doesn't seem to be much movement in that area.  Maybe, being Italian veggies, they need to have a little hissy fit first before coming to the point and into full and exciting bloom? 

Our little treat of the day later, was to take the bikes out.  Utterly fabulous.  Sweeping winding roads, up and up and up before whizzing all the way back down again.  24km in total and an hour and a half of riding.  The way up was a long, long, drag, but a full 7km without touching the pedals on the way down made it well worth the effort.  And the views!  A number of times I almost went over the edge.  Easy to do when the crash barriers seem to stop in very odd places, ie on corners and just where you need them the most.  I'm sure there's a logic there somewhere but, for the moment, it escapes me.  

Great ride and we both finished together.  KP easily taking me on the down hills, me taking him and making up ground on the ups.  He got well ahead of me on the long 7km sweep down, I knew he was trying to gain enough advantage for me not to be able to catch him on the final killer hill before home.  Not a chance.  I got him just as he hit the top.  Perfect.  We rolled in together.