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Archive for October, 2011

Old man’s beard in the olive grove

October 31, 2011 Leave a comment

The olives in our olive grove are beginning to turn from green to purple to black. They should be ready to harvest in late November or early December.

Old man's beard in an olive tree (with the dogs in the background)

It’s our neighbour’s job to maintain the grove, but either he’s made a commercial decision not to bother with certain trees, or else wild clematis, my nemesis, has got the better of him.

After all, it seems to be able to grow about 6 inches in a day.

It’s not just a matter of a few strands weaving themselves into the branches. In some cases the mass of growth of the parasite is so thick that it’s quite altered the shape of the tree.

I had real problems with my back today, otherwise I would have clambered down the slope and made a few deft cuts just above ground level, leaving the stems to die.

It’s not nice to see dead leaves draped all through a plant, but I’d probably knock some of the olives off if I yanked the tendrils down.

Sometimes I feel quite nostalgic for a sensible weed like nettles which knows its own place.

No man is an island

October 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Our place is definitely not an island, let alone the castle that Englishmen try to turn their home into. It sometimes feels as if our privacy and tranquillity are under siege.

Today I’d just brought Kepler in from doing his early morning ablutions when all the dogs started baying and jumping up at the bedroom windowsill, nearly tearing the curtains.

Outside was a hunter making his leisurely way up the hillside in the company of 3 dogs. He wasn’t wearing an orange reflective jacket so I knew he wasn’t part of the official ‘squadra’ which, in any case, would have alerted us (I hope).

I shot out in my dressing gown and called to him from the drive.

The upshot of our shouted conversation was that he claimed to live locally and be after wild boar. He said he knew the huntsman who normally phones us, and that he would get our phone number off him and phone us in future.

His parting shot (no pun intended) was that since our land is not a ‘Reserve’ – by which is meant somewhere that hares, for example, are reared for sport – he has every right to hunt across it.

I phoned the normal hunt spokesman who just kept repeating that they always phone us. He wasn’t sure if he knew this guy. The one he thought it might be was going to a wedding today …

I phoned our neighbour who knew that pet dogs could be killed by hunts crossing the land, and also knew that nothing could be done about it.

I can understand that a boar hunt would be a complete farce if it had to circumvent this and that protected piece of land, but I should like us to be accorded the courtesy of a warning so that we have the opportunity to protect ourselves.

The trail bikers who came up the drive this afternoon warrant less consideration, as far as I’m concerned.

I would have expected the overgrown continuation of the track to be a deterrent in itself, but Clive says that in his heyday he would have taken a bike right up the hill, over the tussocky grass.

Hillside where trail bikers might have made sport

It follows, therefore, that  these bikers could in theory have spent all afternoon criss-crossing the field, mangling juniper bushes and orchid bulbs, endangering the dogs and driving us mad with the noise.

Which is why the West tribe as a unit, Kepler included, sent them packing.

Postepay money-pit

October 29, 2011 1 comment

The pre-paid card responsible for our woes

Postepay is a prepaid credit card issued by the Italian Post Office. It hasn’t proved itself a money-pit in the usual sense, of absorbing any amount of expenditure, but in a more literal sense.

2 of the credits we transferred onto it over the last couple of months would each, separately, have taken the balance over the limit allowed on the card.

We didn’t at the time know what the limit was. The card didn’t come with any instructions or conditions, and we misunderstood the information we’d gleaned from the internet.

The 2 credits, which together amount to over €1,000, have gone from the originating account but are nowhere to be found within Postepay.

I’ve now spent double figures of hours on the phone and in the Post Office trying to trace this money.

Each time we go over the same old weary ground, then I’m told a different story.

Today I spoke to 3 people on the phone. The first one was so rude (exclaiming “Jesus!” when I asked her to repeat what she’d said) that I asked for her name and she promptly put the phone down on me and then blocked our number for the next 15 minutes or so.

It’s possible (though I doubt it) that they sent a cheque to the address we moved from 4 years ago. This would have occurred because, although of course the application form asks for your address, they completely ignore the one you give them and take it instead from the register associated with the original issuing of your identity card.

That particular point got cleared up, but just at the moment we have no idea what’s going on and whether anyone is even trying to sort the muddle out.

Problematic stove

October 27, 2011 1 comment

The cheapest heating fuel in these parts is wooden pellets made from reconstituted sawdust of either softwood or hardwood or a mixture.

The pellet stove

In a specially made stove, a hopper is stoked with the pellets which then drop at the required rate into a burner. An attractive orange flame can be seen through a glass window but no ashes escape and the surfaces are never too hot to touch.

When we chose our stove 4 years ago, it was about the only model that could heat a 100 square metre room and the water for a swimming pool. In fact it was too cutting edge for its own good.

It has given us a fair deal of heat over the years, but also an inordinate amount of trouble. Practically every Error Alert in the book has occurred at one time or another.

It has flooded the floor several times.

The company which manufactured the stove and, until the guarantee expired, was responsible for its defects, refuses to speak to ‘members of the public’. Requests and complaints have to be conveyed through specially contracted technicians, and for a long time they were unable to find anyone to take on the contract in the area.

When they did find someone, he ‘fixed’ the stove for us and almost as soon as he’d left, a valve ruptured and we were sprayed with evil-smelling boiling water shooting out in all directions.

The only technician who seems to understand our stove  is the one who installed it, and he lives over an hour away with travelling expenses to match.

A brand new Error Alert occurred this evening. I finally managed to reach a co-worker of our trusted technician; he guessed that the water temperature sensor has packed up.

It sounds expensive and I’m sure it will be. Meantime we have to huddle round our infra-red electric fire.

Visit to the Planning Office

October 27, 2011 Leave a comment
Looking towards Valtopina Comune (in the background)

I braved the rain today to go to the Comune (Council) and climb up the 4 flights of marble stairs to the Planning Office.

I proudly produced drawings and substantially-completed forms to do with minor alterations to our house, all as stipulated.

The drawings were fine, I was told, but in the time (admittedly rather a long time) that it’s taken us to prepare everything, the law has changed and the forms have been completely redesigned.

We’re talking now not about something called a DIA (Dichiarazione Inizio Attivita), but about something called a SCIA (Segnalazione Certificata Inizio Attivita).

Take my word for it, the titles amount to pretty much the same thing.

I’ve done some research and the motivation behind the change is supposed to be ‘simplification’.

No comment.

Anyway, it didn’t help when the Comune technician said the new procedure had only been introduced, in our area, ‘a few days ago’. He knew very little about it, and didn’t have photocopies of the form already prepared.

It’s ‘back to the drawing-board’, figuratively speaking.

Taylor’s split claw

October 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Taylor's split claw - compare the 2 claws next to each other in the light

It sounds very trivial, a split claw. But Taylor is applying his usual obsessive attention to it, licking and chewing and worrying at it.

We took him to the vet today, and apparently it’s not possible to pull out the longitudinal sliver of claw that has separated itself off, except under general anaesthetic.

But there is a chance it will mend and grow out by itself.

We were advised to put something called Pasta di Fissan on it. This is an anti-inflammatory, soothing cream which is used on nappy rash and such.

The vet also said that to prevent Taylor licking his paw, we could put a sock on it.

Ha, ha. If Taylor had anything on his paw – bandage, sock, even gypsum plaster – it would be his life’s work to remove it. And of course he’d manage it, probably within the first few minutes.

Baby slow worm

October 25, 2011 1 comment

Dead baby slow worm

I found this tiny creature already dead inside the lid of the GPL gas tank. It must have got trapped inside.

My first thought was that it was a tiny eel, and then I saw the vestigial claws half way down its body. I could also see it had little pointed teeth.

It was about 15 cm long and the thickness of a shoe lace.

After some research on the internet,  I worked out that it was a baby slow worm – a legless lizard and not a worm, nor a snake for that matter.

Apparently slow worms give birth to live young in late summer, so it makes perfect sense.

Poor little mite.