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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Please Don’t Feed the Cats

It’s a balmy morning, barely a cloud skids across the sky and Portishead are playing, Sour Times, as I sit doing research for an article I have to write and submit to the editor before the end of next week. To be honest this feature should have been written and put to bed weeks ago, I’ve had plenty of time to write it, but there have been too many distractions. Living in the middle of a house restoration isn’t really conducive to concentration. Another distraction occurs, this one is a noise in the kitchen. I’m alone apart from the iPod, the builder has gone for supplies and the OH is at the shop. I dismiss the noise and go back to reading about when coffee was first introduced into Europe. (Fascinating eh?) There’s another noise and the sound of rustling. I get up and see a cat on the kitchen table, it sees me and is off the table and out of the open door like an express train. I follow it outside and it stops to look back at me with contempt. It’s a huge evil looking Tom. I’ve seen it in the lane on a couple of occasions, but as it’s feral these sightings never last long, as it quickly dissolves into the undergrowth. So why did this normally shy animal come into my kitchen?

We have nearby a couple of holiday-lets; cottages owned by Brits who rent them out to holidaymakers, and it’s here that the problem arises. People arrive for their two-weeks in the sun, see the cats and go all soft inside and start to feed them. Without realising that there’s quite a large population of feral cats in the countryside, and they’re perfectly capable of feeding themselves on the abundance of small prey out here. With easy pickings these cats quickly associate humans with food. I bumped into a couple in the local supermarket last week, I was astonished that they were purchasing cat food. I enquired why they would do such a thing, only to have the wife say, “It’s for the cats, they’re so skinny. Poor dears.” I bit my tongue, bid them good morning and left them to it.

There’s a big difference between feral cats in the countryside and the plethora of homeless moggies in the towns. The urban cats are a result of people failing to neuter or spay their pets: Italians are not keen on having their pets undergo these procedures. So far be it for me to complain about someone’s good intentions, albeit even if they are misguided,

Okay I will complain about these misguided good intentions.

The problem is, the holidaymakers leave; probably with a couple of photos of the ‘poor skinny cat ‘they lovingly fed and the people who live here have to then put up with these cats that would normally keep their distance coming in search of food. Why stalk lizards when the humans give you chicken bones and slices of prosciutto. As the cats come onto your property they bring with them their waste and their smell. Some of the locals leave kitchen scraps on their land for these wild cats, in return for this the cats catch the vipers: Abruzzo’s only poisonous snake. This good and well, as the cats have no contact with the human that brings the food, however the holidaymakers coo over the cats like doves, slipping them slithers of sliced meat, and the cat then makes the connection… Human + Hands + Meat = Full Belly. So when they leave on their Ryanair return and the holiday-let is shuttered and closed, the cats move onto the other occupied houses in search of food, and we have to put up with them climbing inside recycling bins and shredding the bin-liners: On Friday, within the space of two-hours I have had to pick up the contents of my bin-liner three times as cats have torn them apart in search of food – ironically, Friday is plastic and metal collection day.

So please come to Italy, have a great time in the pizzeria’s, languish upon our beaches and enjoy a glass or three of  Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, but please don’t feed the cats.