The Naked Crime Fighter

To be honest the title of today’s instalment is a little bit off the mark, but not enough for it to be click bait, but it does sound better than the semi-naked crime fighter.

So, just who is this naked fighter of crime?

Me.

It was Wednesday night and I was retiring to my bed when I saw headlights shining from the rear of my neighbour’s property. Now the property in question is empty as they’re having building work completed at the moment so this car raises my suspicions. I opened a window and could hear voices over the running engine. So I leapt into action and grabbed a pair of pyjama bottoms and a torch and exited the house at speed to confront the assumed thieves. As I ran along the lane I realised that shoes or at least slippers would have been a good idea, but it’s too late now.

I arrive at the house and the vehicle’s headlights illuminate two bemused looking Italian men, who from their point of view are being approached by a semi-naked man in pyjama bottoms waving a torch and looking like he’s escaped from a high security mental health establishment.

“What’s going on?” I say, trying to sound in control yet now realising this could probably be the most stupid thing I’ve ever done. They then smile, big toothy grins that threaten to slice their faces in two, “We’re here delivering sand for the builder.” Is their reply.

I smile too, say something inane along the lines of, “Okay, have a good evening,” and shuffle back up the lane, vowing to give up crime fighting, now knowing that I’ve given two delivery men something joke about in the bar.

Oh the shame…

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Rip Off Britain’s

One of the first pieces of advice I was given when I first talked of purchasing a house in Italy came from an English woman in L’Aquila. The advice was, “Don’t trust the Italian’s, as soon as they find out you’re English they’ll rip you off. Make sure you get quotes in writing etc. etc. blah blah blah…” I know of so many Brits who have moved here that actually believe in this nonsense. I am under no illusion why statements like this are rife in the ex-pat community, they either originate from one person having a bad experience and then the rumour-mill kicks in or they’re the result of fear.

I can understand if someone has a bad experience with a tradesperson they will be naturally disgruntled, but how often is the ‘bad experience’ down to incompetent communication? I know of people who have complained about tradespeople when the actual problem was a lack of language skill. One that springs to mind is a man who asked an Italian builder to construct a wall for him while he took a trip over to the UK; the man explained that he wanted a muro di mattoni and then flew back to England. Upon his return he was horrified to find at his restored cottage a nice new red brick wall. An argument ensued and the builder explained that he had done exactly what he had been asked to do. It turned out the customer wanted a wall made of reclaimed stone to match the walls of his cottage, but had not asked for a muro di pietra vecchia,  Here, I think there were two mistakes made, the first was flying back to the UK, therefore not being on hand to supervise, and the second, probably relying on Google translate.

But to get back to my initial reason for today’s blog entry. Without thinking, ex-pats often hand out nuggets of advice like the one I was given, I understand when people say I want an English builder because then there’ll be no language problems, this makes perfect sense if you speak little or no Italian. However, to blindly say I want and English builder, because the Italian ones will rip me off is nonsense. And to be honest my experience has been quite the opposite.

Before we started our renovation we obtained three quotes for the work in total, two were from English builders and the third from an Italian, the British builder’s quotes turned out to be the most expensive. Now I’m not saying there was any duplicity involved or any intention to rip me off, I’m just stating a fact. In the end we chose none of the people who gave us quotes and went along with the advice from our architect and the comune, (council) and hired someone local who they recommended.

However during the renovation there has been times when we have needed to look for extra personnel for specialised jobs. For example, I wanted the rear of the house clearing of weeds, tree stumps, a tumbledown brick shed and years of neglect. I asked around and got the following quotes:

British builder – Delivery of JCB €50. Hire of JCB €85 per day, Hire of operator €180 per day Job length 2 days. Total €580

Italian Builder – €40 per hour maximum time 3 hours. Total €120

The Italian builder came over and true to his word did the job in two and a half hours and even dug us a trench for a water pipe for free. Total €100

Again I’m not suggesting any intended duplicity took place, but surely a qualified builder would know a three-hour job from from a two-day one?

We pretty soon discovered that, despite the recommendation of the comune, the original sewage system, an ancient fossa biologica was not really fit for use and that we’d be better off  erring on the side of precaution and having a new septic tank put in. So we asked for a few quotes, stating that we’d like a tank suitable for a four person household, we actually stressed the make and tank reference number we required and here’s what we received:

British builder 1 – Tank €1050. Excavation and installation €150. Two men at €180 per day. Total €1560 (delivery estimate 2 – 4 days)

British builder 2 – Tank €1200. Excavation and installation €200. Three men at €150 per day. Total €1850 (delivery estimate 2 – 6 days)

Italian builder – Tank, including collection from supplier €800. Excavation and installation €200. Total €1000

Now in this instance we had already done our homework and knew that the tank cost the trade price of €700 including taxes, and our Italian builder would charge us a €100 on top of this to collect it from Guardiagrele, approximately 24 Km away. what we couldn’t understand was, even if there was a delivery charge of €100 on the British builder’s quotes why was the same tank now €250 and €400 more expensive?

Once again I’m not suggesting any intended duplicity took place, I’ll leave it to you to make up your own mind.

Paloma Faith and the Inexpensive Cauliflower

Everyone who knows me, knows that music is an important part of my life. I’ve always liked to be surrounded by it, and as my taste is eclectic my iPod is constantly on shuffle. One minute a track by Linkin Park can be replaced by the electronic sound of Kraftwerk and that then by the operatic timbre of José Carreras. Occasionally though, as it shuffles its way from punk to pop and rock to reggae, it seems to favour one particular artist or band. Yesterday was a day like this. As the coffee machined bubbled, I opened the doors to a wonderful Italian morning,  before turning on my iPod. The last few bars of Doctor, Doctor by Thompson Twins faded out, to be replaced by the hauntingly, wonderful acoustic version of, Just Be, by, Paloma Faith, from her 2012 album Fall to Grace.

I’ve always been drawn to unusual artists; I mean that in a positive way, and probably unusual isn’t the right word, maybe I mean different: different as in interesting. There’s been a few women in the music business over the years who have caught my attention because of their individuality, Toyah Willcox, Kate Bush, Siouxsie Sioux and Poly Styrene are four that spring to mind. Each one was original, with a desire to project their personality rather than become music industry puppets. Image is imperative in music and each of these women had a strong, definite look, and Paloma Faith sits very well within this circle. Like Willcox, Bush et al, Faith, has that rare ability to write a lyric that stabs you where it matters, add to this her kookiness and intriguing voice and you have the perfect pop package.

After breakfast, I’m driving through Perano on my way to the builders merchants where the handsome Pietro works, unaware of the 51 year old school-boy crush, he serves me with my twelve sacks of cement, and as I drive off the iPod shuffles again and this time, Paloma sings Agony. Oh how apt, I think.

I drop into the small fruit and veg store before the roundabout on the Atessa road. Every day there are cars parked outside, often double-parked like today. I go inside, curious why it’s such a popular store considering it’s within a few minutes of three supermarkets. It doesn’t take long to see why the store is popular, the service is excellent, the assistant smiles and chats as she helps people with their purchases and the prices are low. I pick up a cauliflower, it’s almost half the price of those in the supermarket on the roundabout, As i do this the radio in the corner plays Stone Cold Sober, I smile as another Paloma Faith song enriches my day. I leave with a bag of vegetables complete with some freebies thrown in by the smiling assistant and climb into my car and drive home.

Back home I’m sitting in the sunshine as I free broad beans from their pods, the pizza eating cat turns up calling for food and the iPod does it’s job sat in its dock on the kitchen windowsill. This time a Jamie Cullum song begins to play, I then move the track on while making a mental note to remove Mr Cullum’s album from my collection, as his voice is monotony to the extreme. I’m happy again as another song by Paloma plays, This time it’s Do You Want the Truth or Something Better.

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Sorry, as I don’t own the copyright on any photos of the lovely Ms Faith, and a snap of a cauliflower would be just boring, here’s the rainbow over our valley this morning.

Evening update: It would appear my iPod really does favour Ms Faith today, as later as I pour a glass of wine on a warm Italian evening she shuffles to the fore again, this time with My Legs are Weak. I raise a glass to Paloma and say, “A couple more of these and mine will be the same.”