No Clouds and Kitchen Crocodiles

The weather has been quite nice of late, we’ve had clear skies without any traces of clouds so of course I’ve been taking advantage of the chance to do a little sunbathing to get the winter white flesh a healthier colour. I’m not really good at lying in the sun doing nothing and without clouds to watch it can be a bit dull just lying there.

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So with the iPod breaking the stillness of the day up with tunes shuffling I lie and catch a few rays. The first song to blast out over the Italian countryside is, Think Again by 1980’s pop-combo, ABC, in fact the tunes today have a decidedly 80’s vibe. Mel and Kim make an appearance as does King and Tears for Fears. It’s only when Italian metal band, Linea 77, featuring Tiziano Ferro,  thrash the tranquillity with their single Sogni Resplendono,  that I decide it’s time to stop lying around.

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I watch as resident lizard, ‘stumpy’ patrols in my orto, so named as he’s lost his tail, and decide it’s time to grab a cold drink, I wander into the kitchen just as Olive chases a large lizard through the door and watch as it dives for cover under the fridge, but not until our black terrier has nipped off the end of its tail. I do think if you had a phobia to lizards that central Italy wouldn’t be for you, as there’s so many of the emerald green reptiles here.

A few years ago I was at my friends house in Casoli, and somehow a baby lizard had managed to get through a fly screen, both us being a tad squeamish meant that the operation to remove the small visitor was an hilarious operation, and we then referred to it as the great crocodile hunt. So Now I’m left here on ‘crocodile’ watch as a tail end wriggles about on the floor.

The OH takes the dogs out and I settle down to work and look up and there’s the crocodile wandering across my kitchen floor, so with the yard-brush I coax it towards the front door and watch as it runs away to the safety of the grass.

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OH returns and I tell the tale of the great crocodile hunter that retrieved it from under the fridge and sent it off on its way. At that moment, Alf our lanky juvenile red-legged dog chases another lizard in through the door and this new reptilian visitor takes safety under the kitchen units.

Oh-hum, that’s me in great crocodile hunter guise again.

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Burning Bales

We’ve had a few problems these past few nights with cinghiale (wild boar) coming down from the hills to forage for the local produce due to be harvested, part of this is possibly because they know it’s harvest time and pomegranates and sweet corn are ripe and in part to it being hunting season, so many become displaced by hunters; for hunters please read, nutters in high-vis jackets taking pot shots at anything that moves, including each other. So far this year, the tally of hunters accidentally shot in Italy by fellow hunters is 29.

Last night I was talking to Loui, he told me that they’ll leave a straw bale burning outside the farm entrance and at the rear to deter the marauding hogs, he also warned me to keep an eye on the dogs. “Would you like a bale of straw to burn?” he asked me, I declined his offer, worried that knowing my luck I’d set fire to the car and eventually blow up the top of the lane, leading to a major fire that will wipe out the olive groves surrounding us. “Well, you’d best mark the road.” I gave him a puzzled look and he thought for a while, then acted out, peeing in a straight line. I smiled, nodded my head and responded, “Ho capito.”

So today as gunshots crack the early autumn air, every time I’ve felt the need to pee I’ve been up at the top of the lane, keeping a keen eye out for passing traffic as I pee in a straight line, creating an invisible barrier across the land that leads down to our house.

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  Did it work? I’m not entirely sure, but we didn’t get a visit from the boar last night, and had a barking dog free night.

  Or maybe word has got out in the wild pig population, that there’s a strange man making a fence out of pee, so they’ve decided that running the  gauntlet with the nutters with guns is a saner option.

Picture via, free-picture.net

Pomegranates in Pyjamas

It’s early evening, 20.20, (8.20 in old money). I’ve just got back from taking Alf for a walk down the lane. As I was already geared up for an evening in front of the television, I was dressed in a T-shirt and a pair of Calvin Klein pyjama bottoms. So I’m settling down for the evening, when before I could take a sip of my wine Alf decided he needed to pee. As we get very little traffic in the evening and I can’t be bothered to get changed and slip on his collar and lead and head off down the lane. The air is cool and as we stroll past the walnut tree Alf crunches a shell open and devours the nut inside.

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We’re passing my neighbours hose when a man in a Punto drives past, he waves and I return his greeting. I’m eager for Alf to pee but he has other ideas, he just wants to walk. We get down to the war memorial at the bend in the lane, when a youth on a scooter whizzes past. We walk as far as the pomegranate bush and Alf decides to pee, as he splashes the ground I pick a couple of the fruits. We’re walking back when Rosa drives past, slowing to stare at the crazy Englishman wearing pyjamas as he walks his equally crazy dog. (She’s not keen on dogs and not Alf who gave her a fright a few weeks ago).

We stop at the walnut tree and as Alf crunches another nut free, I fill my pyjama pockets with walnuts. I’m at the top of my drive when a tractor trundles past and the driver calls out, a cheery ‘good evening’. Typical, most nights we’re lucky if we get a single car down the lane after 7pm, and tonight when I’m unsuitably attired we get a abundance of vehicles.

I sit down and sip my wine, comfortable in the knowledge that down in the town there’s more than likely talk of that crazy straniero out walking in his bed-clothes.

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Nocturnal Barking

For several nights the dogs have been odd, Alf has been sniffing the air and grumbling, while Olive has been nervous. At first we put it down to the thunderstorm we had a few nights previous. I’ve heard dogs can sense the electricity in the air and it can make some feel uncomfortable: If your dog suffers during storms, a trick is to rub them down with a tumble dryer sheet, it stops the static making them feel bad and they smell nicer too. Believe me it really works.

Last night, Alf ran up and down outside and it was difficult to get him to come in. He was obviously onto something. The night was filled with barking dogs, the four at the farm were having it large, Antonio’s dogs at the bottom of the lane joined in and our two also had burst of shouting out. As ours stay indoors at night, when bedtime came they soon calmed down and the Italian dogs continued until after a couple of glasses of wine I fell asleep and heard them no more.

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At six o’clock this morning Alf wanted to go out for his early morning run, I opened the front door and he dashed up to the lane, he started barking and I thought he was doing his usual barking at ghosts, nothing there to merit his actions. He went out of sight and I heard him crashing about in the undergrowth on our land. Olive was desperate to join him, and as we usually send her to fetch him back home, so she ran off to join him. The early hour was dominated by the barking of dogs, the farm dogs, our neighbour’s dogs and our two. I tolerated it for about twenty minutes and decided to investigate what was causing the noise. Alf and Olive were really going at it, the noise was indescribable, I went into the back garden and saw they had cornered a chinghiale, (pronounced chin-gee-yare-lay).

Chinghiale are wild boar and the one they had trapped was still striped, so was young, it stood as tall as Alf and snorted in annoyance as the dogs took turns to approach it and bark loudly. Concerned in case an adult was near by; as they have been known to disembowel dogs in an instant,  I stepped forward and called the dogs away. Olive must have sensed it was folly to get involved with a boar and came away, this gave the animal room to manoeuvre, and it ran straight towards me, I side-stepped as it passed and grabbed Alf who was up for a game of chase. Tonight I think we’ll be keeping a close eye out for chinghiale, and maybe restrict the dogs’ playtime to just outside the house.

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Grasshopper in the Shower

This morning, for the second time this week I’m removing a grasshopper from the shower; something I never had to do in the UK. I’m at a loss as to how they get in; the wet room is secure. Maybe they are Inverse-Houdini-hoppers who instead of escaping, negotiate impenetrable domains and trap themselves. I release our visitor back into the wild and pour hot water over instant coffee before sitting outside to enjoy the peace and quiet before work begins again inside the house. The dogs join me, panting after running down the bottom of our wilderness: Alfie as usual is covered in sticky-buds, Olive doesn’t have a single one attached to her fur: I wonder if out of sight of humans, she’s picking them and throwing them at him.

As I sit here, I think back to how things were when work on the house started back in April, we’ve achieved so much in short space of time. We are now at the stage where we’re just finishing off jobs, mostly the ones our errant builder failed to complete. We have the second bedroom floor to lay and some cement work to complete before the arrival of my ex-wife’s son, (who we’ll call step-son for the purpose of the blog) arrives for a six week stay.

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My morning sit on the patio gives me time to reflect upon things, and be thankful for what I have. I’m lucky enough to be mortgage free, I have sufficient money to sustain myself for the next few years and I’m happy I can earn a crust doing what I enjoy doing. I’m thankful for having worked all my life in an industry that I chose to be in rather than just earning to live. Something few people are able to say.

Thinking this way makes me think about, Natalie Částka, a talented actress I had the pleasure of working with in the past and how she looks at her life and career. An actors’ life isn’t all ‘Hi diddle dee dee’, it’s fraught with meagre job opportunities, rejection, and disappointment, long hours and poor pay. But Natalie always remains up-beat even on her down-beat days and continues to persevere while others have fallen by the wayside.  I’m not talking about chasing your dream, I saying it’s all about never giving up. Natalie, never gives up, and is at the moment, in the enviable position of being able to turn work down and choose from the offers coming her way. She’s also about to go over the the USA to perform there.To find out more about Natalie’s career visit her blog: Click here.

I wanted to be here in Italy, I wanted to be self supportive and I wanted to be happy, all of which I am, because even in the face of adversity I never gave up. Maybe it’s the same grasshopper that gets into the shower, perhaps he’ll never give up getting in, and I’ll be destined to pop him outside time after time

Evidence of Dogs

As we near the end of our house refurbishment the front garden is looking less like a building site and more like a wasteland. The grasses have been killed off by piles of sand and cement. Plastic covered piles of materials have gone to reveal yellowing weeds and there’s lots of evidence that dogs live here.

Now when I say evidence that dogs live here, I don’t mean what I’m sure has sprung to mind. I’m not referring to dog poop, that is quickly dispensed with and dropped into the appropriate council bin. What I mean by evidence, is dog litter.

The iPod is playing and as it shuffles and as Girls Aloud, (yes I have Girls Aloud on my iPod) begin to play, Something Kinda Oooh, I decide to clean up outside. I look around at the doggie destruction, a tennis ball lies disembowelled near the herb planter, that incidentally will be taken out as the dogs have removed fifty per cent of its soil by digging in it. On the step is a chewed plastic bottle and beside a scarlet geranium is a discarded and bitten ice cream container.

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The day is heating up and the thought of clearing up the dog litter as I sweat under the sun makes me consider it’s best to leave the task until later, maybe early evening. I look at the only patch of green outside and it’s strewn with ripped up pieces of cement bags; the perils of puppyhood is the constant urge to chew. There’s a crushed plastic plant pot and a finger from a gardening glove and where our flooring had been stored is a mangled kitchen spatula: When did that go missing?

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Early evening arrives and I find another excuse not to tidy up, the mosquito’s are out, just flying at ankle level, maybe I’d be better to get up early in the morning when the ankle biting insects are away and the sun is still waking up. I stroll back into the house, the iPod shuffles and, David Bowie launches into, Diamond Dogs, I put out of my mind the need to clean up after my dogs who are not diamonds but are still precious, and pour a glass of wine. We’ll see if tomorrow morning brings back the urge to tidy up the front of the house.

Somehow I doubt it.

Dirty Dog

Olive, our little terrier, or terror as she’s referred to lately has a penchant for rolling in things, usually it’s the builder’s pile of sand but today it was time for a roll in her other favourite rolling stuff – fox shit. (sorry there’s no way to dress it up, it’s shit). She seems to seek it out and revels in rolling in it, getting it up her flanks and between her ears and she’s not content until it’s well and truly ground into her collar.

This morning she decided to have a run down to the bottom of our land where it’s overgrown and unkempt, We could hear her yapping as she chased after Alfie who had also decided it would be fun to run through the undergrowth. When they returned, tails wagging and tongues lolling out of panting mouths, they both reeked of fox. The smell is so pungent it fills the house and there’s nothing for it but to bathe the mutts.

Both of the dogs hate being washed, and protest as shampoo is worked into their coats. Alfie being bigger gets hosed down outside while Olive is whisked downstairs and popped under the shower, after she’s smelling sweeter I clean the shower, and am amazed at the pile of sand and grit that has been rinsed from her coat. How can such a little dog carry such a mountain of grit and sand in its coat is beyond comprehension.

As I sweep the dirt into a dustpan, I hear barking and yes you guessed it, she’s outside rolling in the sand.

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One Pumpkin Two Black Devils and Lots of Fireworks

100_7187I picked the first of my pumpkins two days ago and since then it’s languished on a shelf waiting for something to happen to it. So today as the iPod kicked in and Tilly and the Wall, play Alligator Skin, I took a knife to it and scattered it with chopped chillies, curry powder and cumin before roasting it until the flesh became soft. After it had cooled it was joined by an onion, some tomato puree, homemade stock and after seasoning, it was mercilessly dropped into the liquidiser and reduced to a thick paste. Some fresh cream and a little more stock was added to thin it down and the result was three and a half litres of spicy pumpkin soup.

Lunchtime arrives and as we eat warm focaccia and prosciutto we enjoy a bowl of the soup which has a kick of heat amid its soft creamy texture. It’s 38 degrees outside, but it feels hotter inside my soup bowl. I have to agree with myself that this was a morning well spent in the kitchen.100_7197

In the evening we pick up friends and after I give them a bottle of pumpkin soup, I drive to nearby Palombaro. We’ve been invited by our friends, Richard and Annie for dinner at their  magnificent palazzo. We’re welcomed with wine and I chat to Richard as Annie gives the others a tour of the three-storey property, complete with a sweeping staircase and marble columns. As we sit down to eat, fireworks appear in the distance and very quickly I realise i have the most advantageous seating position. Opposite me is a huge open window, so as I eat I’m entertained by the pyrotechnics in the distance. After a lovely evening of laughter, irreverent storytelling and random remarks about peaches we say our good-byes. We stroll back to the car in streets lit by ochre coloured streetlamps and as we descend back down towards Piana Selva another town is closing its festa with a magnificent firework display.

We arrive home at around 01.30, I let the dogs out for a mad dash around the front garden rough land at the front and then take them for a walk down the lane. When we get to our turning around spot, I clap my hands and like two black devils they race back up the lane towards home. When I eventually catch up with them, Alfie is sat outside the front door while Olive sits in the middle of the road, her eyes flashing in the light from my torch. I ask her to follow and together we enter the house and close the door on another Italian day. 

The Missing Dwarf

How do you dispose of an unwanted dwarf?

Now there’s a question most of you will never have been asked before, although I do suspect it’s a particularly common one for some members of the Renegade Writers.

I like living in the countryside. A rural setting really suits me. I guess you could call it semi-rural really, as although we’re on a hill over looking a valley and surrounded by olive groves and fields, we not too far from a town, shopping centre and other amenities. I like the quiet that comes with living in the countryside. I go to sleep with the window open and all I hear is the click of cicadas, the hoot of a distant owl and the occasional  barking dog. When I wake It’s to birdsong and the rustle of grasses in the breeze. Today at 06.45, Alfie decided to let me know he wanted to go out; clever for a five-month old; his cold nose on the sole of my foot did the trick of waking me. The morning was misty following yesterday’s welcome thunderstorms and there was very little birdsong. I put the kettle on and switched on the iPod, adding my noise to the day and the Squeeze classic, Cool for Cats played as I dropped instant coffee into mugs.

One of the benefits of being semi-rural, is that there’s always somewhere to walk the dogs away from traffic. Not far away is a dried up riverbed next to vines of ripening grapes and little pockets of olive trees. The road through the area is safe to let the dogs walk off their leads as there’s very few people that drive along it. I love taking the dogs there, it’s great for them to nose around and discover new smells, they chase each other and hide from their humans behind the bamboo; No doubt sniggering like naughty school-children as they hear their names being called.

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Alfie Mac managed to get his head into the shot top left

The only thing that ruins these moments of pleasure is fly-tipping. The selfish act of fly-tipping is not a problem just for Italy, it’s  a problem for rural areas all over. I grew up in a semi-rural part of Staffordshire and the lanes around our house would sometimes overnight grow a pile of rubbish or miraculously a beaten up of sofa would appear in a field. Even down our lane here in Italy, someone has bothered to drive up at night and deposit an old mattress down a slope that leads to some redundant olive grove. There’s always a mattress or a fridge. I think these items must be the most difficult for people to dispose of, either that or they just don’t know how to get rid of them.

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If getting rid of household items poses a problem for some people, what about disposing of unwanted dwarfs? As I took a diversion from the main track down a little pathway, worn away by passing feet, I came across another example of fly-tipping: this tipping was of the Disney persuasion. In the rough grass lay a set of concrete garden ornaments, these were shaped into the guise of Disney’s version of Snow White and her dwarf friends. However there’s only six of her vertically-challenged mates with her; one of the dwarfs is missing.

As I stand looking down at these concrete cadavers I ponder the name of the missing dwarf, could it be, Happy or Grumpy, possibly Bashful or Doc, maybe it’s Sneezy. Could it be Dopey, it may even be Sleepy.  At my side Alfie nudges me, bored with standing still and my attention is taken away from the Disney death, and as we wander back up to the main track I debate the plural of dwarf, is it dwarves or dwarfs. No doubt the answer will be found with a Google search. The Plural of Dwarf explanation

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The Best Laid Plans and all that Jazz

August 15th is Ferragosto in Italy, the day the whole country celebrates summer and like the rest of the population we were intent of celebrating, However, things did not go to plan. I like it when things go off on a tangent, so to speak, the result can often be better than the anticipated original idea. A few weeks ago we made plans to visit Roccascalegna to enjoy an evening there during its three-day music festival. We’d looked at which acts were performing and decided to forgo the strumming of mandolins and rock based acts of days two and three and opt for the opening evening of jazz influenced piano playing under the stars.

We’d been privileged to be invited to a pre-festival get together at the Olive House; a mere 1.5km from the town centre and main stage. So we collected our friends Viv and Seppe and after Annie arrived with a van full of people we set off up the roads that snake their way upwards. We passed through the lovely town of Altino; making a note of the date for the town’s pepper festival and continued climbing higher. The views over Abruzzo from up high are magnificent, even in August, the valley is green and between the mountains you catch a glimpse of the Adriatic coast in the distance. We turn a corner and the road begins to descend and soon the medieval castle can be seen sitting on top of an outcrop; within minutes we’ve passed through the town centre and are pulling up outside our destination.

I became aware of the Olive House when I was asked to write some copy for a marketing campaign, since then I’ve become friends with the owners, Graham and Mark. Our convoy of cars park outside the property and our hosts invite us inside. The patio is set out with tables and chairs in readiness and as Graham serves drinks, Mark welcomes everyone. Some of our party have never been before and Mark gives them a potted history of the house and its facilities as Graham brings out the food, to go with the bowls of nibbles already on the tables. We’re served pizza rustica, a superb vegetable frittata and homemade herby focaccia.

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Very quickly we’re all chatting and getting to know each other, there’s much mirth and merriment and as we’re coming to the end of the mosquito season seldom nips from the annoying little blighters. (Being higher up, the Olive House is less plagued by mozzies than our house down in the valley). The setting is perfect; there’s a slight breeze keeping the heat at bay. The half-moon is high and occasionally there’s a distant hoot of an owl. The evening air is filled with the sounds of friends laughing and sharing stories. People joke about my conversation with one of the dogs, as i always answer the question I ask the canine in a deep voice, Mike says it’s like a prisoner who’s been on sixty cigarettes a day for years, the lunacy threatens to become surreal when someone asks, “what time are we leaving for the music festival?”

Quizzical expressions are passed across the tables, shoulders are shrugged and heads are shook. The consensus of opinion is that we’re all having such a good time that we don’t need to listen to someone tickling the ivories to make the evening perfect. So another bottle of wine is opened and more laughter floats down towards the orchard.