Friday, March 27, 2009

Big Day Today I

It’s the DIL’s birthday. He’s 85, sorry, 75 - just received a large nudge in the ribs from La D (this is my new nomenclature for La Duchessa). It’s just that he looks about 95 but I thought I would be nice and kind and rewind the clock a bit. Nah, only joking DIL, Hope you have a good one.
We bought him a book of crosswords and a Chambers Crossword Dictionary as he is very keen on crosswords, as we are. He is always fantastically keen to join in when he is staying with us and we do a crossword. In fact he treats it in a very competitive manner, sitting on the edge of his seat, his look concentrated on the clue giver and blurting out answers sometimes before the clue has been fully given. It’s as though there are extra points for giving an answer before the end of the clue. But he calms down a bit after his fourth Mackays – no water, no ice – usually.
Actually, it’s high time he and MIL sorted out some flights to come over here again. I am hoping they will do so very shortly. We are always in need of his gardening skills, especially moving into spring, as well as crossword solving.

Big Day Today II

It’s Bertie’s “half” birthday too. The little fella’s six months old today. When I weighed him this morning, he came in at 26 kilos. Just thinking about it, it’s a kilo a week for the first 26 weeks of his life. I do hope he doesn’t continue with this rate because if he is going to weigh 52 kilos on his first birthday, we’ll probably be moving out, or rather forced out, of our piccola casa. We will be spatially challenged.
La D took him out first thing and he put up two deer at the edge of the estate. One of them came hurtling out of the woods right in front of La D. She came bursting through the door on her return as I was setting out the breakfast things, you know, salvers on the sideboard with scrambled eggs, kippers, bacon, tomatoes, toast, fresh pastries that I’d just knocked up, fresh coffee. Our usual breakfast fare.
“Where were you L’uomo chi fa” she announced breathlessly, “When I needed you?” She recounted her, or rather hers and Bertie’s escapades from a few minutes ago. “It could have been a cinghiale (wild pig), and it could have chased me and bitten me (she has just finished the third Hannibal Lecter book)and have done terrible things to me”
I took her gently by the arm and steered her to the breakfast (well, breakfast, lunch, dinner, reading, writing, card playing) table, and poured her a cup of coffee. “I’m sorry La D, but I couldn’t have known there was going to be a deer out there this morning could I?” I said, reasonably. She looked me in the eye as she sipped her coffee and said “Right. This calls for a change in procedure” My heart started to fall gradually towards my feet.
“When it’s my morning to take Bertie out, you will have to go out first and check that the coast is clear of all large and dangerous animals and report back that everything is OK” she said.
I thought for a bit. “Well, I might just as well take Bertie with me then” I replied, somewhat perplexed. If a cinghiale saw a human especially during the day, and with a big dog like Bertie, they would not be interested in approaching and savaging said human.
“What an excellent suggestion L’uomo chi fa. How kind of you to offer. Some toast?

We have a New Reg

Over the last couple of months we have been going through the process of re-registering our car in Italy. It’s a process that you can do on your own, but only if your seriously ill in the head. Dealing with Italian bureaucracy is best done by Italians who know how things work in your area. You would think that something that is a national “system” such as car registration (a car is registered as English, French, Italian, not as a Cornish car, or Parisian or Tuscan) would have only one method or way to proceed. Here, that’s not necessarily the case. Some people we know had to seek some legal advice about winding up a business here. They did have a legal person working for them and he told them they had to do XYZ. There was something about the advice that our acquaintances thought was strange, so they asked the advice of another legal bod and he said it was ABC. Are they working to the same set of rules.
So, to return to the story. We used the services of a driving school proprietor who had been recommended to us by an English couple who had used him three times. We went to see him, explained what we wanted, gave him all the papers relating to the car that were required, signed a couple of documents, went to an official civilian motoring centre, had the car checked over for things like brakes and lights and stuff and were then give our new number plates – DW 078 KM. I just need to put them on.
It is quite an expensive process (particularly now if you convert the Euros back into Sterling) but having read some of the experiences other English people have been through, up to now it’s been a relatively serene one.
I do like that word “serene” The weather people use it to describe clear, sunny, calm weather, Sereno.


Weather. That brings me onto the question of weather. It is definitely warming up now and we will be doing some serious planting over the next few weeks. We have already got peas, broad beans and loads of onions in. This week we planted our early potatoes. We love this time of the year.
But we will still have Bertie and his digging habits to look forward to. I am sure he will get better.

PS I haven’t received any takers in response to my Dog For Sale post. What a surprise.

Ciao. Mantenere la fede

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dog for Sale - €50,00

No, I’m not selling him for €50,00, I’ll give you €50,00 if you’ll take him. It would be more but it’s all I can afford.
We have started to prepare our planting ground for the vegetables. Now I did wonder whether Bert would be a help or a hindrance and surprise, surprise, it turns out to be the latter.
Not only does he believe spades and forks and other digging tools are just large toys for him to have fun with, like grabbing on to the ends and almost ripping them out of your hands, but he also obviously believes that he can dig far quicker and deeper than humans can with these large toys. We had planted a few early onions a little while ago. We can’t find them now. Either Bertie has dug them up, or he has covered them with soil from his dig for victory re-enactment. One of the troubles is Bertie can’t decide on one exact spot for his digging escapades, or he has been trying several digging techniques. Whatever it is, the result is that rather a lot of holes have appeared over the vegetable patches and elsewhere.
Something will have to be done to curb his enthusiasm. I have talked to him on more than one occasion and threatened him with a written warning, but he just looks at me with his lovely doleful eyes, has a scratch and a quick lick of his you-know-what, and then gets up and wanders off to see if the cats fancy playing. Honestly, he has the attention span of an adolescent. I almost expect him to say “What? What?” if he could talk.
Of course this has all been reported to La Duchessa who has taken a rather dim view of my pathetic attempts to train him so far. I have said that I will sort it out, but haven’t let her know that I have put him on E-bay. Only 40 minutes left and no offers. Damn. Looks like we are stuck with him.
Perhaps I could try hypnosis on him. Worth a try I suppose. I’ll report back on my progress at a later date.

When is a Gherkin a Pineapple?

We have very recently signed up to a trial of being able to watch British Television programmes via the Internet. Most times it is pretty good. We could do with a bit better broadband speed as it sometimes stops and starts again, but at least we can see things like the Six Nations Rugby Union matches, or most of them. Last Friday we were watching Comic Relief. There was some good comedy, as always, balanced with features on why there is a need for Comic Relief and what they have been doing for children and families in the UK and Africa.
One of the comedy bits was a celebrity Apprentice, which was pretty funny and entertaining.
There was one bit at the beginning when you saw Alan Sugar in his helicopter flying over London with this famous building in the background which was obviously going to be the destination where he was going to meet the teams. La Duchessa said “Oh do look L’uomo chi fa (I am sometimes allowed in at night times). There is that dreadful Pineapple building in London”.
I looked at La Duchessa. “I’m not sure I have heard of this building, your grace” I said.
“Of course you have. It was designed by that Norman Foster chappie, the one who did that wobbly Millennium bridge”
“I think you mean the Gherkin” I ventured.
“Do I?” La Duchessa said. “Oh yes, I think I do” she added and then in an undertone that I was not meant to hear, “Damn, he’s right”.
“Fetch me a glass of red wine please” she asked/ordered. “Yes your grace” I replied with a hint of a smile on my lips.

This means of address that I have had to adopt is a new requirement. It stems from her birthday. One of her sisters, La Marchesa, sent her a birthday card. On the front is a cartoon of a lady on a chaise longue with the words “All women over 45 are really Goddesses and should be worshipped daily”. Quite a funny card I thought, La Marquesa has a good sense of humour, but La Duchessa has only gone and taken the sentiments as real and demands daily devotions and new means of address.
Oh hum.

Biodegradable Pots and Chitting

La Duchessa loves to get her green fingers on and now that Spring does appear to be with us, is desperate to get on with growing things. She has come across an ingenious idea for small plant pots that you can grow seeds in and then plant the seedling pot and all, because the pot is made from newspaper.
Dead easy. You use and old loo roll and tear newsprint so that it is about 50% taller than the tube. You just roll the cut newsprint around the tube with the paper in line with one end of the tube. When it is wound right round, you press the paper overlap into the tube. Holding the paper, you just withdraw the tube and voila, you have a biodegradable seed pot. La Duchessa has cut down a cardboard box and filled it with lots of the paper pots in so they have some support. Great idea. But I have to be careful that she doesn’t take all the newsprint as I need to have some for my bonfires. I may need to make a secret cache somewhere.

She has actually gone a bit Prince Charlesy. We have put all our seed potatoes in various containers to “chit”. This is when the tubers start to appear and once they have reached a certain size they are then ready to plant out. She is now insisting that that whenever either one of us goes into the potting shed we have to “chatter with the chitters” in the firm belief that this will make them grow into good strong flavoursome spuds. Of course I tell her that I do chatter, but the reality is of course that I don’t. I really do not want our Italian neighbours thinking that we have become eccentric Inglese. They probably think that already so no point in further confirmation.


As you can see I did survive last Friday’s ordeal at the hospital. It was touch and go for a while, I don’t mind admitting.
La Duchessa was, as usual, an absolute brick. She came with me into the hospital, helped to find the eye section and made sure I was comfortable. She had written out a special label for me which she attached round my neck. “Just in case you wander off and get lost. But just make sure you don’t” she advised me. “Right. I’m off now. I’m taking Bertram (everybody else calls him Bertie) for a walk and then going to do some shopping. Don’t worry. I’ll be back in plenty of time after your tests to take you home”
So, I had my tests, la Duchessa came just before I had to go and have the last thing done, and we set off home. I couldn’t see a bloody thing.
Anyway, we got home and I went to have a pee. Now, I had been advised that I might go yellow for a bit and also my wee would be yellow. Well, I thought not much different to normal, straw colour. I was so surprised at the colour of liquid that came out that I just had to call la Duchessa to come and have look. “Must I?” she asked. “Yes, yes. You won’t believe it!” I told her. It was the colour of those emergency service vests, you know fluorescent yellow. It was extraordinary. It didn’t last for long. A couple more pees and it was out of my system.

I hate hospitals.

Ciao. Mantenere la fede

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

English as she is spoke

Following on from my last piece I am afraid I let myself down badly the other day. I was in charge of the crossword and giving out the clues when I had a bit of foot in mouth experience that of course sent la Duchessa into paroxysms of mirth.
The clue was “Food and sport fish of the family Serranidae that contains about 400 species of fish”. Unfortunately I read the last three words out as “fecies of spish” After la Duchessa stopped writhing on the floor holding her sides - I didn’t think it was that funny either – she said that I had to put it in the blog. When I started to say that I didn’t think it should go in, her whole demeanour changed. Well, here it is then as she requested. (The answer by the way is Sea Bass)


Last week-end we went down to what the Americans call a “yard” sale being held by some friends who are having to quit their nascent business and return to the UK. They had opened a martial arts and Buddhist retreat just down the road from us in an old hotel that had been renovated by the local comune (Council).It’s a real shame as they have worked so incredibly hard and put a lot of money into it too, to get the business going but unfortunately it did not take off as it needed to do.
So, they were selling everything off to raise some much needed funds to start life again in England.
There were loads of people down there, English as well as lots of Italians. Not being oversupplied with Euros ourselves we made a couple of small purchases to add to their pot. One of them is a small statue of Buddha. La Duchessa has for sometime, even before we moved here, been looking for a Buddha statue to put in our garden. Well now we have one and he sits looking rather peaceful at the foot of one of our Olive trees.


One of the other things that they are having to leave behind is their cat Jess. Jess came into their lives several months ago. As a kitten she just turned up at their house one day totally out of the blue. She was not feral as she could be stroked and picked up easily. They asked around but no one seemed to know anything about her. Anyway they were about to go for a trip back to the UK and asked if we would look after her for them. In fact they said to us that if she runs off, not to be worried, because they hadn’t really expected her to stay anyway. But stay she did. She is a lovely cat.
When we looked after her last year, our friends daughter had called her “Fluffums” I said to her, “I’m sorry but under no circumstances am I going to stand outside and call Fluffums”. La Duchessa agreed. Jess has markings so like Postman Pat’s cat Jess, that that is what la Duchessa and I called her and fortunately the child could see that we were right – smart kid!
So Bert will have a proper companion. We hope he’ll take to her and of course vice versa. He still loves the community cats. He was giving Starlight a wash yesterday morning, and she seemed to really enjoy it.

Man ‘Flu and other unhealthy things

Despite having had an anti-‘flu jab at the docs a couple of months ago, I have succumbed to the lesser, male-only virus of Man ‘Flu.
I feel quite rough really. My throat, which is now better, was raw and even just swallowing was bloody sore. It felt like swallowing razor blades – honestly it did.
I’m on the mend now after copious Lem-sips and Ibruprofen – although I am unconvinced that they do help much. They might give a bit of relief but ……..
Anyway I have to be better for Friday as that is the day, I hope, it will be my third appointment, that I am going to hospital to have a dye injected into my body and then to have photographs taken of my retinas. Apparently, the dye allows the technicians to see some vessels at the back of the eyeballs to see if they are OK or have been got at by the diabetes. All a bit too technical for me.
I had been told what was to happen by an Italian nurse and doctor so we roughly know what’s what. But to relieve any concerns la Duchessa very kindly printed off from the internet a set information that Oxford Radcliffe supply to their patients undertaking a Fluorescein Angiography, or FFA for those in the know.
Now I know that La Duchessa has my best interests at heart, I mean who else is going to chop the wood, turn over the garden, strim the estate, do the ironing, clean the car, etc., etc.? But there are times when what you get is just too much information or perhaps worse, conflicting information. For example, the nurse said I was not to have any of my medication on the morning of the FFA. Oxford Radcliffe says you must take your medication. Agghh.
But that’s not the best bit. The nurse told me that my pee would be yellow for a couple of days and also my skin will go bright yellow. Radcliffe says the same thing but then goes onto some other quite interesting possible side effects:
• Outbreak of hives
• Complete collapse of the venal system around the vein where the dye was injected leading to loss of the limb
• Death
Wow. Roll on Friday I say.

I hope to be here to report next week. Gulp!

Ciao. Mantenere la fede

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Bertie wrote this one

I know Maremmas are supposed to be super smart, but, this takes the biscuit. Bertie, as you can see, is now adept at the keyboard and with a little prompting from me has been very helpful. I merely dictate and he does the inputting. Smart, eh? And, I only have to pay him with a couple of doggy treats.

Talking about smart, we met up with one of his brothers, Alfie, this week. His people have got a little boy, about 4 or 5, who is blind. Alfie is going to be trained as a guide dog. Apparently according to an expert over here Maremmas make excellent guide dogs, like Retrievers/Labs in the UK. He’s lovely but quite different from Bertie. Smaller, same colour but different coat, quieter (probably a good thing if he is going to be trained as a guide dog). Bertie’s sister Jess was there too. Alfie was quite to content to hang around the humans whilst the other two tried to destroy the garden we were in. They were playing hide and seek around the bushes in the pouring rain. Bertie almost changed colour. He was filthy in about 20 minutes.

Stalag Casa Grotta – The Great Escape

We think we may have a problem.

The Bert has taken to try and dig to Australia. These large holes keep appearing all over the fenced in part of the estate. At first we thought that the pigs had come in somehow, but then we spied the beast and his works. Also, he tries to act all nonchalant and innocent as he comes in for a drink or a treat. But it’s really hard not to notice a kilo of earth piled up on the end of his nose, or the earth-encrusted front paws.

We think he is getting ready for the big under-the-fence dig soon. Let’s hope not, or if he does escape he barks in an English accent so he will be recognised as an escapee by the Italians and be returned to us. We haven’t got a cooler so I don’t know where we can put him in solitary for a while.

No, seriously, what is really nagging us is that we must start planting some vegetables soon (once the wet weather desists and we can get out there to do some digging and preparation). Is he going to “help” us with the preparation? Or is he going to wait until we have planted and then come along and dig the stuff all up? We need to come up with some plan or something to keep him off the veggie patches when he shouldn’t be on them. I’m sure La Duchessa and I between us can think of something that will work.

Olive Pruning

Happy to report that all Olive trees are now in pruned. We have had a few more bonfires and have quite a bit of firewood ready for next winter which is a good start although I think we may to buy in some as well which is a bit of shame, but if we need some wood to keep warm, I can’t really go around nicking it can I?

Our Olive oil is lasting incredibly well. We do try and use it at every opportunity but putting on the Italian equivalent of Cornflakes or making yoghurts with it is a bit drastic. Hopefully some visitors this year can take some home with them.


Last week, as mentioned in the previous blog, we went for a couple of days to Florence (that is why there was no blog last week). This was our birthday present to each other. Excellent.

The weather was so kind to us. Blue, blue sky for all the time we were there.

We went round the Science Museum but unfortunately some of it, the most interesting bit, was closed due to some alterations ahead of a renaming of the museum to the Galileo Museum in honour of the great man. They have all Galileo’s instruments and books and what have you. Really very good. So next time we go (we do want to try and go once every two years) we will do the museum again.

There was also an interactive exhibition on with replicas of the machines of Leonardo da Vinci at another museum. The opening times just suited us to go and see it on the morning of our departure as we were on a midday train from Florence. Brilliant. So off we trotted to arrive there just after 09:30 when the leaflet/brochure said it opened for the morning. Guess what? The museum at 09:40 looked like a mausoleum. I went up to the main doors and there was a small typed notice stuck to the other side of the glass. “Opening times are from 11:00 to blah, blah, blah” Bugger! But the official leaflets were printed with the opening time of 09:30! What can you do? There was no-one to complain to as the bloody place was devoid of humans.

One of the things we do love to do is go to a small cafĂ© in a little park overlooking the River Arno. It is just outside the centre of Florence and it is a great place to get a very fresh Piadini (like a tortilla filled with ham and cheese) and a couple of glasses of wine and a nice hot cappuccino whilst sitting outside in the sun and watching the rowers on the Arno, or the cyclists and walkers in the park, or the people just reading or talking and contemplating the world. Yes, all in all, we again had a lovely time and can’t wait to get back there for another Florence recharge. It is a lovely city.

A few pictures:

Three Monthly Appraisal

My three monthly appraisal came up recently with La Duchessa – I still don’t understand why it is only me that has to have this appraisal, I don’t give La Duchessa an appraisal. When I bring this up with her she just looks at me and says “Oh, don’t be so stupid.” What can I do?

Anyway, I brought up my role as chief (chief meaning “only”, the word was supposed to give me some sense of importance) turd-picker-upper or TPU in local parlance. La Duchessa looked me straight in the eye and said “Do you love Bertie” I said yes of course I did. “Do you love me?” she said. “Of course I do, but …” I stammered. “No buts, just get on with it. I’ll, sorry, we’ll, review the situation in five years time” she said. I knew in my heart of hearts that I shouldn’t have said any more, but it just came out “But ……” “I said, NO BUTS!” La Duchessa had spoken. I went off to get my gloves.

I leave you with some interesting language

I have occasionally alluded to the misuse of English as she should be spoke, and the mixing up of words by La Duchessa (she does know and has given her approval).

There was a cracker recently.

We do, well try and do, general knowledge crosswords at the weekends to help us, well me mainly, stop the grey cells from disappearing altogether. There was a clue the other day about what name is given to a Hindu priest. I hadn’t got a clue but La Duchessa said, ”It’s not a Buddhist is it?”

Ciao. Mantenere la fede