January Generosity

The embers of 2017 have now faded into ash and we’re welcoming 2018 into our hearts. The comparison between last year in Abruzzo and this year is the skies are a cobalt blue and the sun is doing its best to warm the earth. In 2017 we had the worst snowfall for many years, so this warm weather is very welcome. The days however may be warm but as soon as the sun goes down the cloudless skies mean the temperature drops and it’s time to light the log burner and snuggle down for the evening. It’s the need for wood to burn that’s prompted this blog post.

Were just a handful of days into the new year and so far I’ve experienced several acts of generosity. On Thursday morning I was just finishing my breakfast when there was a knock at the door, reluctantly I left my eggs and bacon and shuffled to open it. The door opened to the smiling face of my neighbour Mario who was clutching a bottle of fresh, cloudy olive oil. “Come va?” was his cheerful opening to the English man stood before him still dressed in night attire. I told him I was well and he thrust the bottle towards me telling me it was from the November harvest and a gift for me for my help and my friendship.


He tells me it’s an exceptional taste this year. Later I decant it into dark coloured glass bottles to preserve its flavour. Sampled simply upon bread the flavour is fruity and fresh and reminiscent of the previous summer.

Saturday, I’m coming home from a trip to the shop when another neighbour, Franco stops me. He’s cutting a tree down that has been made unsafe by the recent winds that took half of the tiles off my roof: that’s a post I forgot to write. “Nice day today,” he says as the chainsaw buzzes away at the tree’s trunk. “You have a wood burner?” he asks, I respond saying yes and he tells me to help myself to as much of the kindling that I want. We open the back of the car and promptly load it up with around a months supply that’ll save us using our store. I thank him and wish him happy new year and drive away as he continues on with his labour.

wood 1

The still Sunday air is punctuated by the mechanical chugging of an ancient tractor and another neighbour comes into view over the brow of the hill. “Hello English,” he calls to me, his usual greeting. He’s as ancient as his machinery and has a moustache you could hide kittens in; we’ve never exchanged names, our conversations are mostly, hello, nice day and a wave of the hand. Behind his tractor is a trailer laden with olive branches that have been stripped of their leaves. “Buon lavoro,” I say indicating towards his load with a nod of the head. “Grazie,” is his reply, good for burning, he says indicating to his olive wood with a nod of his head. I tell him that I agree and he says, take some. He pulls the tractor over and jumps down and grabbing a handful he starts to load my arms up, saying he’s more than he’ll need this year. With arms straining under the weight, I say thank you as he climbs aboard his mechanical steed, he bids me buon anno and disappears down the lane.


I spend the remainder of the morning cutting the olive wood into lengths that fit the burner and wonder at the generosity of my neighbours.


The Cost of Keeping Warm

Welcome to my first blog post of 2016. I had a couple of people message me to say that I hadn’t mentioned what music was shuffling on the iPod in my last few posts; one of whom was my stalker (I say in the nicest possible way) in New York – Those who’ve been following A Life on Shuffle for a while will probably remember him?) So to kick off,  il primo post di quest’anno, the first song playing, appropriately is an Italian one called, Piove by Giusy Ferreri.

Most people ask me what the comparison is between utilities in the UK and Italy and obviously I can only comment on my own experience. Electricity is on a par with England, however mains gas here is a little more expensive. We have no mains gas in our lane so last winter we used a portable gas heater and kept a record of the costs which during the coldest months totalled €365.00 (£268.50) which we think wasn’t bad considering we had a couple of weeks of deep snow.

Wood BurnerThis year we installed a wood burner, it’s a 9 kw that is capable of heating 190 m3 and so far we’ve been really happy with it.

We at first we assumed we’d have to buy a pallet of ready chopped wood, but then we thought about how the locals here sort out their winter fuel and we decided to do it the same way if we could.

At first I cut down some overgrown branches from our fig tree and left them over the summer to dry out.

We then had a friend who had 2 very small olive’s that he wanted to cut down and said if we cut them down we could have the wood, so that was the start of our wood pile for 2015. Then another friend had a rather unruly olive and we were allowed to cut down this one too.

There’s always lots of kindling around so there’s no need to store it as a 5 minute walk down the lane can supply this, however we had lots of off cuts of pine from the restoration and this was then chopped and added to our store.

A trip to the beach is finished off with a walk into the woods to collect a box of pine cones: Brilliant for resurrecting embers should you neglect the fire. Pine Cones


The olive harvest came and Mario asked us if we wanted his pruned branches for our fire. They are a little bit labour intensive as you have to strip them, but the larger pieces make great logs and the smaller branches are very good; as olive burns very well and doesn’t need to be left to season for a year. We very soon had several wheelbarrows full of extra wood.


Finally, we often take a trip to the coast as it’s only 15 minutes away, and we’ve now become seasoned driftwood scavengers, with each trip bringing us two large bags full of wood.


So when you look at it, the cost this year is minimal, a small amount in petrol (which we’d have used anyway going to walk on the beach) and a few cents on fire-lighters.

So we’re happy that the cost of keeping warm this year is considerably cheaper than buying gas bottles.

Stay warm folks and see you next time.

Earth Wind and Fire

Monday: I’ve been working on getting my orto (vegetable garden) sorted out, following the lands many years as a wilderness. With the eventual sorting out by, Seppe of the carnage that the previous builder and his digger driving friend Toto left behind I now have a fenced off little patch to grow my veggies in. It’s about an fifth of the size of my old allotment back in the UK, but as I wont need to have greenhouses in Italy, I’m sure I can cope with less space. That said I will have a much longer growing season, and also have to adapt to what will and will not grow over here.

I have a small portion of wall dividing my orto from the land owned by my neighbour, so my first job has been to set up a walled-bed and a path, in this bed I shall start they year off with my broad (fava) beans and they’re already getting off to a good start; three sowings have taken place, five weeks apart for, hopefully  a nice amount of beans during the harvesting season. Also beans add a good deal of nitrogen to the soil so they’ll be helping to condition the earth for the following year.



I planted a dozen garlic around the raised salad bed I built a few weeks ago and they’ve now pushed through and are growing well, taking advantage of the early sun we’ve been having.  My orto is south-west facing and after the sunrise gets the early morning sunshine and as that golden orb moves across the sky it gets the heat in the afternoon but none of the direct  sunlight, which will be ideal for water conservation and tomatoes and chillies that can split in direct sunlight.


Tuesday: I had meant to go and cut some canes from the bamboo that’s growing down from the orto today, but I think mother nature is having ‘that, time of the month. The month being February. The wind is whipping the bamboo and the dry canes sound like witchdoctors rattling bones as they curse the elements. February is a windy month here, some say its the sirocco; which I know they get across the Po plains up north. I’m not sure we get it so far down here, but as I don’t know I couldn’t say for sure. What I can say is they’re jolly blustery and I fear for the roof tiles. I’ve just spent an half hour collecting plant pots, dog toys and various other items that have been picked up by the wind and deposited elsewhere.

Wednesday: Today the wind has dropped, so as Time Bomb by Jamie Tracy plays on the iPod, I start to build a fire on the land at the side of the house. I love a good fire, as my friends on Facebook can verify as there’s always a photo of me with some bonfire throughout the year. My neighbour Domenico has pruned the two olive trees he owns next to my house and has stacked the trimmings neatly. I asked if he wanted them and he said no, so I thought I’d tidy up and burn them. Now I have never burned olive before, but as others around are burning their pruned branches I know the green wood burns… Oh boy does it burn, it goes up like someone has thrown petrol onto the flames. What is normally a gentle campfire becomes an inferno with the addition of olive wood. The smoke is noxious. black, choking stuff which surprises me, you’d expect it to smell nice like pine does when it burns. I guess the tree’s natural oils must be like throwing cooking oil onto a fire.


O.H. hands me a glass of fizz and the iPod shuffles and Toni Basil starts to sing, Time After Time as the latest addition of wood crackles, and sparks dance like malevolent imps in the evening air.