Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mechanical Noises and Smells.

February and March over here are months when the Italians do their tree surgery and felling. Gathering and providing timber for the following years stoves and boilers. The sound of petrol chain saws echoes all around us, even during the most inclement days, of which we have had a bucketful, believe me.
Come the end of March and into April, petrol driven noises continue unabated, but the engines are driving strimmers and brush cutters rather than saws. The notes are perceptibly different. Saws tend to either be idling or on full blast as they cut into the timber. Strimmers tend to be constantly up and down as the automatic clutch systems works to do their job.
I like the noise I must say. Sounds like busy insects, but then I am completely mad.
I do love the smell of freshly cut grass. I always have, even as a nipper as my father used to despatch me into the garden once a week during the season to mow the lawn. It was a fair old size, about three quarters of an acre. In fact it was a good job I liked cutting the grass because of the smell of it. I was given my first petrol driven mower at the age of three!!!! I think I should have sued my parents for mental and physical abuse, but I was too young to understand, and besides it was brilliant. No, only joking, it was dad’s mower all I had to do was use it.; and I was a bit older than 3. Enough.

Orioles and Hoopoes

The beautiful Orioles are back. La D heard them first last Monday and now we can hear them all the time. They have a lovely simple and distinctive song. Also the hoopoes are here again. We have not seen either of them but we hope to spy them soon.

Roxie is a strange bird

The two new chickens seem to be settling in ok, but Roxie often doesn’t want to come off the roost and go outside when we open up the coop in the morning. Velma, on the other hand, virtually jumps down before we have put up the steps for them. Quite odd. Still only one egg a day at the moment, despite having a couple for the first two days the new hens joined us. It does take a while for them to settle into a new home and environment.

Gazebo time

Yes, it’s that time of year. We were going to put the gazebo back up when the Winkers were going to be here, but when we knew they would be delayed we didn’t and to be frank the weather has been that rubbish, we haven’t bothered. But the weather is much brighter now. It has been since Sunday really. It is lovely and warm and we have been eating outside everyday this week, so the gazebo had to go up. Excellent. It’s great.

Our dining room table – when not in use

As I have previously stated the weather has been terrible for a long time now. It’s been so bad sometimes that even Bertie has been known to give up sitting outside in the rain. Sometimes he avails himself of our dining room table when it’s not in use as this picture shows!

Ciao, mantenere la fede

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Che Peccato

I am afraid that I won’t be able to let you have news of how the Wiltshire Winkers trip to Italy went as they have not been able to get here, due to the Icelandic volcano.
It’s a real shame as the house and grounds have never looked so clean, neat  and tidy – frankly we’re knackered – and I doubt they will be again.
But wait, good news. They have rebooked and will be over – everything willing – four weeks tomorrow. So, we’ll have longer daylight, warmer weather and there will be more things on to give us some more choice of what-to-do-when-on-holiday-in-Italy. So, all is not lost. They are off to Devon to their caravan on the South coast. That sounds great.
Bertie’s hair

Continuing on the volcano front for a moment, Bertie is moulting at the moment. I have never encountered so much dead hair coming off a dog as that coming off the Bert. He’s like a mini natural disaster whenever he shakes himself. He almost disappears in a mist of very fine white hair. The hair swirls around him and up into the air. The hair is so fine that even the slightest breeze sends it into something akin to a snow flurry. We comb him everyday and it just keeps coming out in handfuls. We don’t really understand why he is not bald. Hopefully we are nearing the end.

Chicken update

Roxie and Velma are settling in OK. They do tend to stay in the coop a lot. In fact so much so that we have taken to putting them out in the morning and shutting the coop door so they have to wander about a bit. But, it’s early days yet. La D said that they do look quite a bit older than the other hens we have bought and she wonders if they have got used more to being in cages and therefore are taking longer to acclimatise to more “freedom”. She could be right. Smart bird La D, you know.

A nightingale sang at Casa Grotta

During the last few nights we have been hearing a wonderful nightingale singing just outside the house. It really is a wonderful sound. How do we know it’s a nightingale when it’s pitch black outside? I referred to a some birdsong CDs we obtained from The Independent newspaper some years. Mind you this is the first time IO have ever listened to them, but I knew they would come in handy one of these days. A bit like having a man-drawer in the house! Have a look at this, it’s brilliant:
Ciao, mantenere la fede

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Welcome Roxie and Velma!

Despite us saying that we were not going to give names to our chickens in case we get too sentimental over time, they don't seem to be lasting too long to become attached that way - said with tongue in cheek.
So we have decided to give our new hens names. We got two more today to join Xena as we found out that hens are quite social creatures and you shouldn't really keep only one. It's not good chicken-keeping practice.
They look quite feisty girls and as we are avid fans of Bob Fosse, we have called them Roxie and Velma. We think the names go well with Xena, and they didn't seem to mind.
We put them into the coop to join Xena as soon as we got back. Xena seemed to take to some new friends pretty well. La D went back to the house to get some fresh water and put it inside, and guess what she found? An egg. A very warm egg. We assume it was Xena, but we have no way of telling whether she was the one who hadn't yet begun laying before last Sunday. Any way we are taking this as a good sign.
We are now back up to strength and can do no more to protect the hens. If it doesn't work out again, I think we may have to seriously think about our egg supply.

Ciao, mantenere la fede

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

More sad news of a feathered kind …..

On Saturday it was showing 35° C on an outside temperature indicator that we drove past, brilliant sunshine. On Sunday the temperature didn’t get past 9° C on our gauge and rain, rain, gloom and snow!. Ridiculous.
But, despite the weather we were having a lovely Sunday. Just relaxing. Lovely roast chicken for lunch. A DVD in the afternoon. La D had a good chat with her sister – La Contessa. I went out to lock the chickens away at 7 but could only find one, huddled up in the corner on the nest box. At this time it was snowing, a fair bit. I couldn’t see them anywhere.
I rushed back to la D and then we both went out and spent an hour calling and searching getting soaked through and very cold. We came in when we could hardly see beyond the end of out noses. Nothing. No sign of the other two at all. What had happened? We didn’t see any signs of a struggle. No feathers, although the gloom and the snow made it difficult to see much detail. Could an eagle have got them? We had seen an eagle munching on something in a field we passed in the car not far from here the week before. Although they normally stay nearer the mountains, but obviously they will search further afield if food is not available at this time of year. We couldn’t have lost more chickens to the f***ing fox, could we? We felt guilty, cross, sad and whole lot more irrational things. We’d only had them for six weeks and not all of three were laying yet. Rotten..
The next day we checked over our remaining hen and she does have some feathers broken and missing on her side. We are going to call her Xena, Warrior Princess for surviving the ordeal, whatever it was. We did find some feathers where they shouldn’t be, although not many. We think it must have been the fox again.
We have raised the level of the fence to over 2 metres now all round by various means of protective material. It looks like a small fortress, something out of a Mad Max movie.
We looked up various sites on the Internet and we seem to be everything right. One new thing we are doing, or at least I am, as it is not a very lady-like thing to do, is to start peeing all round the edge of the pen in the evening. Apparently foxes do not like the smell of human urine at all. As I have got lots of ketones in my wee from my diabetes, I am hoping that the fox(es) won’t even come into the area let alone anywhere near the pen as they’ll pick up the scent miles away. I have also thought of getting a small shot gun, something like a 4/10, but we did read that if a fox is killed, another one moves into the area to take its place. So they are difficult to deal with permanently. So deterrence seems to be the only answer
Xena, is not wandering about much at the moment, poor girl. We haven’t rushed off and replaced the other two yet but will probably later this week.
Oh the joys of living in the countryside.

Lighter subjects ….

The birds are back and how.

The noise of the birds in the morning is so loud at the moment. Myriad calls fill the air from about 5:45 onwards.
We’ve seen a small group of Gold Finches bustling about the top garden. A couple of Redstarts have been flitting in and out of the budding Hibiscus bushes. A little Blue Tit looks like nesting again in the wall just where we have the gazebo. Woodpeckers tree boring can be heard from the woods all around us. Various little birds can be seen occasionally with bits of Bertie’s hair in their beaks as they start their nest building escapades. It really is lovely and I have to say it is my favourite time of the year, especially when it was so lovely and sunny and warm last week. As I mentioned earlier, we have regressed a little with the weather but it will get back on track soon.

The return of the Wiltshire Winkers

Yes, they are coming again. They arrive next week for a few days. La D and myself are really looking forward to seeing them over here again.
We have gone into major Spring cleaning mode.
The panty is spotless (as it can be given the fact that it needs re-plastered!) and looks almost bare as we went through all the food items and surprise, surprise, threw out about a third of them as they should have been consumed in the previous millennium!
I think we are ready, but are they ready for the Bert? They have not had the pleasure yet. Will report later.

Ciao, mantenere la fede

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Some sad news

On Easter Monday, the lady from whom we bought Casa Grotta, Ida, passed away. She was 95. She was a lovely, vivacious woman whom we had met several times over the purchase of her house. The penultimate time we saw her was when her grandson invited La D and myself to a family celebration for the completion of the sale. There were about 14 of us altogether. We went to an Agriturismo, owned by some friends of the family and had lunch. It started at 12:30 and we left at just after 5! It was absolutely brilliant. Ida was like a little bird, very tiny, and she had piercing blue eyes and a mischievous smile.
She was very taken with la D because of La D’s light, almost blonde hair, and the fact that La D was about twice as tall as her.
We saw her once more after that when she had come over to see a neighbour and as she saw that we were here, we weren’t living here then, just on holiday, she popped in. We showed round the house and the small changes we had made outside, like knocking the pig house down and a couple of other out-buildings so we vastly improved the view from the back of the house. She thought it was good and praised us for it.

Over here, when someone dies, posters are put up normally within 24 hours after death announcing some details about the funeral. I saw it on Tuesday as I had to nip into Penna, but when I got back La D told me that Ida’s great-granddaughter had e-mailed us with the news and said that if we could get to the funeral to say goodbye to Ida, the family would love to see us.
So we have just come back from the funeral. It’s a lovely church in the middle of Penna. There was a good turnout and the family was really pleased we had come to pay our respected. Ida’s granddaughter told La D that Ida often mentioned and talked about us. She was very fond of us and was genuinely pleased we were going to live in her house. We too were glad we went.

2 Out of 3 Ain’t Bad

We now have two of the Three Degrees Mk II laying eggs daily. Superb. Hopefully by next week we should be on full production.

Ciao, mantenere la fede

Friday, April 2, 2010

World Traveller

Just wanted to say that the youngest of our lot set off yesterday on a three month round the world trip with a couple of friends before he settles down for a three year "lounge" at Leeds University (only joking, about the lounge bit!)
Right now he should be taking in the sights, sounds and smells of Hong Kong.
Hope he has fab time and takes lots of photographs.

Ciao, mantenere la fede
The Dog Flap – most ingenious

Because we are fast approaching the time of year when there will be lots of green and other coloured vegetables flourishing in our orti, we have decided to put up a barrier between the top garden and the middle one. This is to keep out the hens, of which more later. Last year the hens did start to make an inroad to some of our vegetables but it didn’t matter too much as we got the hens later in the year.
So, that’s fine. We’ll put up a fence. Hang on. Slight problem. Yep, the Bert. How is he going to be able to wander freely around the gardens if there a fence between them? We’ll obviously have to have a gate for our own use, but we don’t want to have let him in and out as he needs. Hmmm.
Bingo! I’ll design an outside Dog Flap to go in the gate.
So, here it is.

The first picture it looks just like any old garden gate. However look at the second and you’ll see that in fact it has swing gate built into the lower section. Bertie will easily be able to push his way through, but the chickens won’t. Neat, eh?
There is only one possible drawback. We are going to have to teach Bertie to go through it by himself.
No doubt I’ll be reverting to this topic later in the year, hopefully with good news. But then, Bert can be a tricky bugger when he wants to be…..


Yippee! The Three Degrees Mk II have finally started laying – well one has. Yes we have had our first egg on the 31st March and here is a picture to prove it. To date we have had three eggs. La D used the first one to make lovely spinach and ricotta pancakes with, of course, our own fresh pasta. It was truly gorgeous. The second egg is going to make some Hot Cross Buns (without the Cross). Hmmmm. I’m beginning to feel a bit hungry.

Italian Politics – How does he do it?

Good old Silvio. Battered, beaten but definitely not out as he has just increased his electoral share when everyone, well political commentators and pundits, which by this standard are about as good as their financial brothers and sisters at getting things right, thought he’d be out on his ear. Like football, strange old game.

Ciao, mantenere la fede