Plot 51: Bath Time and Bruising

March. The weather has been clement and this has meant digging, so was time to tackle what I call bed 2. The bed is divided into three parts, the first has a portable compost bin on it, so I decided to move this to the side and use the insides to spread over the ground and claim its now a no-dig bed for future potato sowing. The second part is home to a large peony and two rhubarb crowns that look old but still (hopefully) productive. The final part had some ropey old kale growing among the couch grass and so it’s this bed that I decide will be tackled today. The iPod is connected and today as the fork is wielded it’s George Michael that shuffles to the front to commence the digging with Hard Day from his 1987 album, Faith. I hope this isn’t an omen.

March  (27)

As the digging concludes it’s also time to clear away the wooden planks and bits of old plant supports. This results in expletives being uttered as the wet wood slides from my grip and makes contact with my shins. Once complete the bed starts to look much better.

April (1)

After a coffee break it’s time to tackle that bathtub and buried bins, in fact the more I look at the top of the plot, the more depressed it makes me feel. I’ll be much happier once it’s all cleaned up and in order – OCD?

March  (23)

First job was to dig out the strawberries that had seen better days and then remove the soil filling the bathtub – this proves to be difficult as the tub is lined with house bricks meaning every plunge of the spade is met with resistance and a painful vibration up the arm. So it’s down to scooping the soil out by hand until the bath is able to be pulled free from the earth. This also proves painful as it hits my shins several times as it’s moved and in its place is planted a white currant, kindly donated by a friend.

April (11)

Once it’s free and the dustbins dug out, the ground is forked over and raked. Now the space looks 100% better and ready for some fertiliser and planting up. I’m now off home to put some ointment on my bruised shins.

Hoarder or OCD

Friends always laugh at me saying my obsession with ‘being stocked-up’ is like preparing for a nuclear war. Today I was putting some pasta in the cupboard and realised anyone looking in from the outside would not be wrong in assuming that: [A] I’m partial to De Cecco pasta. [B} I’m a bit obsessive. [C} I’m a hoarder.


  Yes I do like De Cecco pasta, in fact back in the U.K. a friend once called me a pasta snob, as I only ever buy this brand. At this    moment in time I have twenty-eight packets of the stuff ranging from boxes of lasagne sheets to linguine and tiny little stelle (stars) that you drop into soup.

  I don’t think I’m a hoarder, I don’t really collect things apart from music albums, oh and don’t forget the Staedtler pencil obsession. I used to keep all the posters, set lists and related paraphernalia from when I was in a band and amassed nine scrap books, however a flood saw to their demise and that ended my only collecting habit.

  OCD does feature in my life and this means I sometimes have unfathomable reasons for doing things. In particular I can never allow my stock of toilet paper to fall below four packets, I don’t know why it’s four but as soon as the fourth packet is opened I’m down the shop buying a new pack. Someone did comment that at least we’ll be okay if we get a sudden attack of dysentery. My current stash is five and a half packs on the window ledge in the bathroom. Another oddity is that despite not being perishable, they are used up in rotation, with newer stock going to the right-hand side at the bottom of the pile, as usage is from left to right. 100_8421-crop

I think I’ve always liked to see kitchen cupboards full, I’d hate to look for something and not find it. I always think it’s best to be prepared for every eventuality, sudden guests near lunchtime or an unequivocal desire for tinned carrots. My mother always stressed the importance of having a well stocked kitchen and I think it has sort of stemmed from there.

Don’t even get me started on the freezer, yesterday I was kindly given some crumpets brought over from the U.K. and there was only enough room in the bread section for six of them so we had to eat four of them so as not to waste them. (Yes there are sections, meat, fish, veg and processed food and even a section for home made soups and stocks.

Is it OCD that drives my desire to build up this food stock, possibly or maybe I’m more comfortable knowing that if anything did happen to prevent me getting to the shops I at least have enough stockpiled food to keep me going for a while.

Though what incidents are likely to necessitate this I’m unsure: sudden snowfall, illness, alien invasion?

I do believe there has to be a modicum of obsessive compulsion involved, particularly with the toilet rolls situation and if you look inside my cupboards all the tins are in order and facing the front: which makes perfect sense as you can see straight away what’s where and what’s what. The maximum amount of tins per item in the cupboard is six any extra stock is stored in a separate place all together where no firm rules regarding numbers or position apply.


Of course everything has to be in the correct place. Dried goods like pasta, rice and pulses have their own cupboard, as do cakes and biscuits; albeit a small one as we eat very few of these and tinned goods are never mixed with jars. Jars reside on the shelves made by a friend to fill a recess in the wall where the sink was originally and having just glanced at it maybe five jars of anchovies is a little excessive as are four of artichoke hearts. But as I’ve already said, you never know what will happen.


I would imagine that due to the regimented way I store things and the number patterns a psychologist would determine that it is OCD rather than hoarding. But should the earth become subjected to an invasion from the far depths of space, during mankind’s panic there’ll still be a little house in Italy where you can get good quality pasta and soft toilet tissue.

Being Local

With the iPod shuffling I drove to the bank ahead of tomorrow’s closure due to it being All Saints day, Spandau Ballet play Chant No1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On) 12” Mix, as I park up and join the queue at the cash machine. It seems like everyone in Selva  Piana needs to get cash out. I’m standing behind an elderly lady who’s humming a discordant tune to herself, when a man asks me if I want the bank or the ATM. I explain I want the cash machine and the whole queue that’s lined up in front of it moves, they’re all waiting to go into the bank and the cashiers are operating a two people, out, two people, in, system.

After withdrawing some cash I head off up the hill that leads to Vizzarri, Somebody Told Me, by Eurythmics plays as I pull into the car park at Scriz, a family-run independent supermarket. I’m picking up a packet of De Cecco pasta when the doors open and there’s a commotion by the fresh fruit. I hear a lot of excited English voices as a group that have arrived in a mini bus enter the store. A man at the front is talking to the group and a couple of excited ladies pick a packet of biscuits up and examine the wrapper.

I’m down at the sliced meats section talking to my friend behind the counter when the group arrive and stand behind me. I order some cooked ham and my friend is cutting me four slices when I hear one of the biscuit women exclaim, “Isn’t it lovely when you hear them speak Italian.” I am slightly tempted to ask what she’d expect to hear, Cantonese, but my friend asks me if I want anything else. I’m ordering six slices of prosciutto nostrano (traditional dry-cured ham) when the group leader addresses them saying, “Here you can see the locals buying their sliced meat and cheeses in much the same way they have been doing for years.

Although it’s only a tourist group, it’s a nice feeling to be considered a local; although the people who originate from here would never consider me that, to them I’ll always be that crazy foreigner (quello straniero pazzo).

Talking about being crazy, as you know I have a few OCD issues, one of which is related to my job as a writer. I only use Staedtler pencils, it’s irrational I know but I genuinely find it difficult to take notes using any other brand of pencil. Most ex-pats get sent HP sauce, Cheddar and other food goodies from back home, but imagine how happy I was to be sent over these beauties:


Al Fresco Dining

One of the best things about living in a country with a temperate climate in early autumn, is the ability to still eat al fresco. In summer eating outside can be plagued with all manner of problems, flies, mosquitos and ants to name a few, but in autumn when the dreaded mozzies have faded away outdoor eating is a pleasure. A few weeks back when we finally had our cooker fitted we had friends around for a traditional (English) Sunday roast dinner. The weather was good, and as we sat tucking into roast potatoes and chicken it was hard to believe we were in the tenth month of 2013.


A couple of weeks later I decided to invite a few people over for an afternoon of al fesco dining, and as my mate: partner in crime so may say, was over from the UK it seemed a good idea. I checked the weather forecast and it all seemed okay, until a week before the proposed date, when the forecast was for thunderstorms and torrential rain. “Oh well,” I said the the OH, “Looks like we’ll have al fresco, inside. If we have the door open we can call it in fresco.” My attempt at humour instigated just a reedy snigger from OH and a roll of the eyes.


So al fresco day was upon us, I spent the previous afternoon prepping, and the morning; with my OCD in overdrive making canapes and antipasti. The mini porchetta were in the oven as was the Sicilian lemon chicken and the Abruzzi green torte was cooling. All this kitchen activity is of course accompanied by the shuffle of the iPod, and as I take the riccotta torte from the fridge the excellent new single, Loud Like Love by Placebo is replaced by Bauhaus’s, Kick in the Eye B-side, Satori. The rain has been continuous all morning and as the final dishes are finished people begin to arrive, then as the last of my guests park their car, the rain stops and the sun peeks out from behind a grey cloud. It’s still a little chilly but everyone gathers together, half of us are standing on the patio outside the front door while the rest are just inside the kitchen.

The weather may not have been perfect for out gathering, but as the last of the guests leave we give ourselves a self-congratulatory pat on the back, and vow next time to do any group gatherings in the summer, and to hell with the mosquitos.



Being Creative with OCD

We have a house guest in a few weeks, which means we have been cracking on with the work required to complete the second bedroom. The walls have been re-pointed and plastered, the floor is laid and the spare bed/futon assembled, so all that’s left has been soft furnishings. My friend Vivienne, dropped off some fabric and I have had a day or so being creative.

After leaving school I did a few months training as a tailor’s cutter; unfortunately the business folded, but I did come away with hand-stitching skills. Add to this my OCD and you get even stiches that must be the same length Smile.

My first job was to create a new headboard for our bed as when we stored it in the bathroom in March it got wet and the suede became mouldy. As we have rustic walls and wooden ceiling and floor I went for a patchwork effect, which I think has turned out rather well. I did fight with my OCD to stop it being too uniform, as I wanted a less than perfect grid effect.


My next task was to make a curtain for the window in the second bedroom; one can’t expect a guest to stay without any privacy from the outside world. So once again I selected some contrasting fabrics and began stitching a curtain. After adding a backing and fitting a rail it’s up at the window. The problem is now I want one for our bedroom window too, which means more finger pricking with a needle.


Talking of OCD, regular readers are aware of my preference for pencils over pens, and my particular liking for the Staedtler brand. I was finally unpacking boxes that had been packed up in readiness for our move to Italy. One such box was packed back in 2009, and when I opened it I found a stash of Staedtler pencils hidden away. I’ve added them to my current collection and think I now have enough to last me until the end of my days. Will this stop me purchasing more, I doubt it.


Now you see it… Now you still see it

I can pretty much cope with anything, I believe I’m able to adjust to most things and I think it’s these traits that have enabled me to settle in another country. Here in Italy you have to be adaptable, one day the road may be closed without notice for a cycle race, the electricity may be turned of for an hour or so and during really hot weather the water supply may be restricted. These things might appear to others as inconveniences, and I’m sure people would be up in arms in England if they woke to find their water supply turned off just to conserve water: It’s the Italian equivalent of the ‘hose-pipe ban’.

I’ve actually found this relaxed attitude has helped my OCD to settle down. Okay so I still only write my notes with a Steadtler pencil and have different types of cutlery for different types of meals, but other unfathomable traits have disappeared, I no longer have my shoe episodes, and recently I measured the wall for our wall lights, they were fitted yesterday and they are not level, in fact one is a tad wonky too. Months ago this would have been a major issue for me, so my partner was surprised when the builder asked me if he should reposition them and my response was, “Nah, they’re okay. Niente problemo.”


Since moving here I think I’ve coped with Italy’s foibles quite well. My neighbour at the top of the lane had a tin shed, now despite it being an eyesore, it never really bothered me, that was until today.  The council have sent some workmen to clean our road, they’re digging up the potholes and making good the surface, following on from the major resurfacing further down I imagine. There’s been a couple of men with hedge cutters and strimmers tidying up the vegetation and we’ve even had a vehicle that can only be described as a giant vacuum cleaner on wheels, drive along slowly sucking up the environmental detritus.

SO I pop to the shop, remembering to get there while its quiet, as it’s bonkers around 4pm. I’m driving down our newly cleaned road with, Melanie Fiona singing Running on the iPod, enjoying the breeze sucked into the car through the open windows. I make my purchases and return to discover the unsightly shed has gone. At first I’m a tad confused almost driving past the turn to our house. I get out of my car and my neighbour tells me one of the council workers has removed it with a JCB digger. At first I think well the lane will look better now, maybe the space will be good for more parking, maybe… Then I spot where the shed has been removed to, a short way down my road and it now sits perched upon a derelict house. A few expletives issue forth and as the JCB driver returns he’s faced with an irate Englishman. He looks at me, wondering why I’m upset, our builder wades in and explains to him that he’s just dumped it on private property, as the land belongs to another neighbour. I mention the Forestale (environmental police) and still he can’t see what the problem is.


So every morning I shall be greeted to the rusting heap of metal as usual, only now it’s closer to my house. I failed to see the irony when a passing Romanian asked me it we had any scrap metal.

I imagine there’ll be several phone calls to the council over the next few days.

The Saucepan and OCD

There’s a saying that goes something like, never judge a book by its cover. Now,  before anyone thinks, is this another blog posting about writing, let me say right now that it’s actually got bog all about writing. Well that is if we pass over the fact that I used a cliché in the opening paragraph and that age old question, are clichés bad? Well, come to think about it, yes they are, very bad indeed – now for those interested in the mechanics of writing, go discuss, for those interested in mindless waffle from a Potteries bloke living in Italy, continue on.

The reason I say you should never judge is because you can fall foul of finding out just what an arse you are and in my case it’s all down to a saucepan. I’ve been coming to Italy since 1988, my first visit was on September 8, now is it OCD or autism, that the date is cemented into my memory, a friend once told me that because I have the ability to retain numbers easily, I could be on the autistic spectrum. You see I remember things like phone numbers, car registrations and UK postcodes: Don’t get me started, you give me a postcode anywhere in the United Kingdom, and I’ll tell you to where in the country it belongs. But I digress, so let’s back to the saucepan. 100_6040

In all the hardware shops, market stalls and department stores, they sell what I’ve always referred to as cheap pans; I use the phrase cheap not because they are comparatively inexpensive but as a derogatory term. They always seemed to be a cheaply fashioned piece of aluminium, that I imagined wouldn’t be very serviceable and easily damaged. Oh, how wrong was I, I purchased one two weeks ago for the princely sum of €3,50 and haven’t stopped using it yet. It conducts heat so much better than my thick bottomed expensive ones purchased in the UK, it cleans easier and don’t ask me how, but the handles don’t get hot. Now I realise that all those years of sneering at saucepans was wasted. No wonder the Italian’s use them, they’re brilliant. I can boil a pan of pasta in half the time and it cuts down on risotto time enough to enable the cook to squeeze in another glass of wine with the guests.

So what has this saucepan got to do with my OCD? Well not much, in fact in the scheme of things this will be possibly the most tenuous link you’ll ever see. The other day I put the saucepan in the washing up bowl and went outside onto the patio: how pretentious am I; patio – it’s a flat bit of concreted land out front. Anyway out front was a line of washing drying in the early evening sunshine. I looked at it and instantly knew that something was wrong with it. Look at the picture below and can you see what’s wrong?

Washing 1

Obviously, the towels shouldn’t be mixed with the T shirt, but it’s the flagrant misuse of pegs. Two to each item equals an uneconomical usage of pegs. Also this leads to spaces between the clothing making optimum wind for drying is wasted. Now if you share the pegs between items the gaps are reduced making the washing flap in the breeze more effectively leading to a shorter drying time. Also if you group the slower drying things together, then you spend less time repositioning items as you remove the dry ones from their section of the washing line.

Washing 2

Now for those of you who think there’s more to life than worrying about washing on a line, let me say I agree. And for those who say I have too much time on my hands, I also say, I agree. But then again, I do have OCD, so for me it’s perfectly natural to think about these things. It could be worse, I could check the doors locked twenty times before I go out, or wash my hands fifty times after touching fish or obsess over which brand of pencil to write with. Come to think about it, the pencil thing is true…

…maybe it’s time to lie down in a darkened room.

The epic search for an egg bowl

On a recent trip into town a search that has been going on for an age ended. I love eggs, they’re wonderful little packages of goodness, and I’m lucky enough to get mine from a friend who keeps chickens, so I know they’re from free range, happy chucks.

Its the storage of these little natural parcels of goodness that poses a problem. I never keep them in a fridge, it’s the manufacturers of fridges that added egg shaped holders, which convinced people to store their eggs in this manner. The shell is permeable and when stored in a fridge it absorbs the smells inside, so if you have fish in there, you’ll taint the eggs with a fishy smell. Also the cold temperature damages the cuticle allowing water vapour into the egg and this in turn breaks the yolk down. Ask yourself this: When you buy your eggs are they in the refrigerators in the supermarket?… No.

So I always make sure my eggs are stored at room temperature, and in summer they are covered to prevent flies landing on them; there’s that pesky permeable shell again. I used to store them in one of those chicken shaped wire baskets, however as it had been crushed in a house move back in February 2012, so it ended up in the recycling and the search for a new receptacle began. Over the past twelve months I’ve scoured kitchen shops for another suitable storage solution, but without luck. Next it was the kitchenware departments of major stores, but I had no joy there. Eventually it was the turn of charity shops to be visited by a wide-eyed-loon searching for… Well, here’s the rub, I wasn’t sure what it was I was looking for. All I knew, was when I found it I’d know.

I was browsing through the window of a charity shop in a small town nearby: A place I’ve only visited once before. I was taken by a picture inside the shop, so went inside. I was looking at the framed print when something on a shelf caught my eye. The picture was soon forgotten and a voice inside my head said, “It’s the egg bowl.” There it was, my twelve month search was over. I 100_5402handed over my £1.49 and left the shop with a smile.

Of course, I can understand that many people would think that I’ve spent a lot of time and energy on something that doesn’t really change my life, I’d agree, but when you have odd flashes of OCD, like I do, getting it right means I’m happy.

Heaven forbid, I ever let you see the ordered shelves of my kitchen cupboards, or I told you about the different types of cutlery for different types of meals saga, that plays out regularly in our house.