I Fiori

After an hour pricking out sweet William seedlings and winter flowering pansies ready to take over from the summer bedding, I was thinking that this year’s display of flowers has been the best yet since moving to Abruzzo.

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Previous years have seen me pay more attention to the orto and raising vegetables, however this year apart from a few tomato and chilli plants and I’ve not bothered with veg growing and concentrated more on flowers.

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The sunflowers have been stunning and are definitely on the list for next year’s display.

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Choosing what to grow can be a case of suck it and see, things that do well in the UK can be horticultural disasters here in the heat of an Italian summer and I’ve had some failures. Sweet peas start off well but once the temperature climbs they fail to do the same, cornflowers get off to a good start but here the flowers seem to be somewhat smaller than in England.

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My greatest achievement is my hosta box, I love hostas and despite them preferring damp shady spots mine do well here. They only get full sun after 2:30 pm and take lots of looking after which means watering twice a day and a daily ritual of picking snails off the planter to stop the leaves becoming perforated by the greedy molluscs: This year we had only three holes in just two leaves.

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I’ve decided to add some flower beds in the rear garden and have already started to collect seeds in readiness for next year’s display, that I hope will be more dramatic than this year’s has been.

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Kitchen Sink Drama

I’m a firm believer that when you move house rather than change everything at once, it can often benefit you to live in the space for a while and see what works and what doesn’t work for you. When we purchased our house in Abruzzo, it came with several unique things. A lavatory in the living room opposite an old television set – handy if you don’t want to miss an episode of your favourite show. A bathroom downstairs that had everything apart from a lavatory. A desiccated grasshopper in the shutters and an old outside sink.

A lot of Italian houses have these ugly concrete sinks complete with washboard under an outside tap. Now part of me would like to think that this was the family sink for washing dishes, cleaning clothes and possibly baby bathing. But maybe that’s too romantic a notion. Maybe the outside tap was the family’s only water source many years ago, but back then I guess it would be buckets that were filled and later, possibly 1950’s, the invention of the ghastly concrete sink was the mod-con every rustic cottage wanted.

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They really are rather unattractive objects and our first thought was to remove it and once smashed to smithereens it would become part of the hard core in the new downstairs floors.

However we never did get around to doing this as our sole water supply at the start of the restoration was the outside tap and it made sense to retain the sink until it became obsolete.

Unlike my neighbour (see photo) ours didn’t have the horrible tiles and lumpy feet so aesthetically it was more pleasing on the eye. (But not much).

Over the coming months people commented on how the sink remained and how they’d removed theirs. We nodded and did mention that we’d be doing the same once we had a fully functioning kitchen sink.

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However over the coming months the sink proved itself; you could say it became worth its weight in concrete. I even grew to like the thing, especially its chipped edge and its two balletic legs, displayed at an angle.

It is possibly one of the most useful things we have inherited with the house, it’s great for washing vegetables from the orto saving splashing the kitchen tiles with mud. On passata making days, it’s great for washing large tomato stained saucepans and the washboard is good on sunny days for drying the pots and pans.

It’s also good for using as a cold frame for hardening off tender plants. In fact ours did spend one year as a planter, it looked very nice with geraniums and summer bedding flowing over the edges: But pretty gave way to functionality and after the summer was over it was consigned once again to proper usage.

But how things change – we often have people say to us that they wish they’d kept their old sink as they now find they have need for it, and I know of one person who after smashing up one has since paid to have another one installed.

It just goes to show, that you’re better off living with things before making snap decisions. My outdoor sink is still ugly but I wouldn’t be without it.

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Why the Name Change?

I have noticed that my blog posts have changed and are less about the music playing whilst I write them and more about my new life in Italy. I’m certain that this is because it’s my life here in Italy that influences most of what I write about. Back in the UK it was things like lost parrots and badly spelled signs and the occasional run down of the Eurovision.

So why, Being Britalian, firstly because I thought it was a nice play on words being British and in Italy and second, because of my birthright I’ll always be a Brit in Italy and never an Italian. But as I’m adopting many of the Italian ways of life as time passes I feel quasi-Italian, so I guess I feel 70% Brit and 30% Italian.

My posts will still contain a mix of sensible info-blurb and mindless bonkers observations as before, and you can be sure that my musical tastes will still be mentioned as hardened readers already know my iPod is always on shuffle whenever I’m working. As I write this Contact in Red Square from the Plastic Letters album by Blondie is playing.

Another reason is I’m having an hiatus from writing for Italy magazine, (I don’t have the time at the moment) but I am putting together notes for a non-fiction account of the why’s and wherefores of my move here that may grow up to be a book and Bieng Britalian is the working title. This project is of course subject to vetting from the Renegade’s back in Stoke on Trent, who will advise, critique and inspire me should they feel the idea is worthy of a potential readership.

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So I’ll leave it for today with a photograph taken in the lane yesterday showing that despite today being the first day of spring, it had arrived earlier here in our corner of Abruzzo.

 

The Three-Week Butter Window

One of the problems with living in Italy compared to the UK is that in summer and autumn you cannot leave your butter out of the fridge without it becoming a river of yellow fat or in winter when it becomes so solid you have to pop it under the grill before you can make a sandwich.

Last year we noticed that this window of opportunity for perfect butter spreading only lasted for three-weeks and at the moment we’re between the solid and slush periods. Yes, the daily temperatures are perfect for leaving the butter dish out and having a knife slide into it and depositing a portion onto soft bread where it spreads smoothly.

Now I know what you’re thinking, surely this topic can’t be that important to warrant a blog post, maybe not, but there are other things that happen during this three-week window of opportunity.

1. The white irises in lane blossom. They tend to be a couple of weeks later than the purple ones and they last for just three-weeks before they have faded away and become just a distant memory.

2. We are also in what I call the buzzing season, men are in the olive groves with their strimmers cutting the lush green grass beneath the trees down to ground level, and those who left pruning until now are thinning out the central branches to the recognised vase shape that allows air to circulate around the emerging olives.

3. Hairy caterpillars seem to be everywhere at the moment, they’re not the dreaded pine processionary moth that decimate pines and have hairs that carry nasty toxins. The ones we get here are fat, black ones that amble over the borage plants. Last year we saw plenty of them but again only for three weeks, so I’m assuming they’re filling up on greenery before turning into pupae.

Oddly enough, so far this morning three songs have shuffled on the iPod with the word, three, in the title. Three Colours Blind by the Alice Martineau, Three Little Birds by Bob Marley and the Wailers and the haunting, Three Babies by Sinead O’Connor.

I’m no off to spread some butter on my toast, have a good day everyone.

Blooming Marvellous

Everything seems early this year, especially the warm weather, it’s February and I’ve already seen a snake and lizards running up and down Dominico’s ruin. Today as Stevie Nicks sang, Has Anyone Ever Written Anything for You, I took a couple of hours off from my writing and lay on a sun-lounger in the sunshine soaking up a few rays. There’s been a soft breeze and every know and again there’s a delicate perfume wafting across the patio, I guess it must be the almond trees that are all in blossom at the moment. I must admit as everyone back in the UK is having a terrible time weather-wise it feels wrong to be basking in the warmth: Anyone would think I was on holiday.

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Last week Seppe called me to come look at what he’d found, as he parted some grasses there among the greenery was a massive grasshopper, not the usual alien type stubby ones we get here in abundance in the summer, but a big brown one. Today as I watered my seedlings another of the big brown hoppers flew across the patio and landed on the table where my courgettes are coming through, needless to say if I was scouting for a meal it got short shrift and I brushed it away: If my seedlings are nibbled now, I know who the culprit will be.

Next door there’s a small outbuilding and its roof tiles are covered with a pale green succulent that’s very pretty, but at this time of the year it flowers and the yellow flowers are beautiful and very welcome after the grey of winter. Today I went to take  a photo of them when out of the building a swift darted past me, I looked inside and saw the remains of a neglected nest, so I assume it’s back to make repairs in readiness for chicks.

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Today I took a stroll just outside the front door and as the sun started to warm the morning air I took out my camera: the cheap pocket point and shoot kind, and took some photos of the flowers that are already blooming. I wonder whether it’s like this in other parts of Italy, or are we lucky being so sheltered, that spring comes earlier?

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Roses

One thing that’s definitely different about being here in Italy is the abundance of flowers in January. Down the lane roses that have become naturalised are in bloom, they have no scent but none-the-less brighten up this drab month. Tiny orange marigolds are holding their heads up and there’s a few bluey-purple periwinkles popping up. Sarah’s house has some tiny white flowers outside that look as if they could be made of delicate china and a frothy yellow flower dances in the breeze down by Antonio’s house on the corner near the war memorial. Further down the road is a house with a huge pot filled with bright yellow daisy type flowers and the last of the woodland cyclamen are packing away their pink and purple bonnets.

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My mind has been on preparing the orto for this years’ produce, as I had a limited space last year I’m ready to get on with growing on a similar scale to when I had my allotment back in the UK. This said, it’s tricky getting your head around sowing and planting times when you’re used to the UK seasons. Last year I was sowing my tomato seeds in March when everyone around me was starting to plant out their plants, so I’ve calculated that I need to start off around 8 to 10 weeks earlier depending upon the plants. I’ve already got a tray of fava beans started off and as soon as they get several true leaves they’ll be transplanted into the orto, and I’ll sow a second lot for a later crop. I have sweet peas sown for cut flowers this summer and will be looking at buying some bedding as soon as it becomes available around March. My pumpkin seeds are in a pot, as I always find they do much better if started early and are allowed to establish themselves as healthy plants before they go mad and spread out ready to fruit.

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Last year was a good year for chillies and this year I’ll be growing habanero and Thai birds eye varieties, the habanero need to be started off now so they’re now sown and I reckon two plants should give us enough hot chillies for the year with a good proportion to dry and store for the winter months. I’m also looking forward to growing some new things, like cucumbers, peppers and fennel which I’ve never attempted before. I’ll even be having a bash at growing some Brussels sprouts, as they grow cabbage over here quite successfully so I imagine they’ll do okay.

I’ve just got back from spending a week over in the UK, and while I was there my bezzie mate, Glo who knows I love crazy signs, gave me a calendar with unusual signs pictured for each day, and I promised to post the sign that corresponds with the blog posting, so here’s today’s which appropriately is an Italian one. (Apologies for the poor quality photo, I’m not organised yet.)

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