Archive for December, 2011

Better is the enemy of good

December 31, 2011 Leave a comment

‘Better is the enemy of good’ should be the mantra of the perfectionist.

Interlocking blocks in the pool steps

I’m afraid I haven’t learnt from this gem of wisdom as proved today when laying more blocks for the pool steps.

It was way past lunchtime and we were tired. I was clearing up after laying the eighth and last block of the day when I realised it was too high.

I pulled the offending block out – to Clive’s irritation – and mixed mortar all over again. Half a bucket wasn’t enough, nor was three-quarters. I ended up doing a whole bucketful in dribs and drabs.

The block was too low – there wasn’t enough mortar under it – so I added more. Like Bart Simpson and the serving of lima beans, it was – more, more, more, more – too much.

Clive came to the rescue and tapped the block down with a rubber mallet and the corner broke. That was it then; wherever the block was, it had to stay.

And of course it sticks up almost as much as the first time round.

Houses hide things

December 29, 2011 1 comment

Breathing machine and mask

This morning we had a call from a technician wanting to do the periodic checks on the bi-level breathing machine which Clive has on loan from the Italian health service.

Anyone coming to the house for the first time is almost certain to have difficulty in finding it and this young man was no exception.

During the course of his checks, he asked for the booklet in which the visits are recorded.

Blow me, I couldn’t find it. It wasn’t in the case that the machine came in, and it wasn’t in the bookcase where it had been last time.

I kept looking for it until finally he told me not to worry.

Of course, an hour after he left, I remembered where I’d put it. It was in a box upstairs, along with all the spares and other paraphernalia to do with the breathing machine.

I wasn’t sure which was more annoying: not finding it, or finding it when it was too late.

There’s an Italian saying which I’ve heard several times:

La casa nasconde ma non ruba.

Literally it means: ‘Houses hide things but don’t steal them.’ In the same situation we might say: ‘It’s there somewhere,’ or ‘It’ll turn up.’

Comforting words except when you’re actually in the throes of turning everything upside down looking for some elusive object that isn’t where it ought to be.


December 28, 2011 Leave a comment

I hunted on the internet today, fruitlessly, for information about where MedX machines can be found in Europe.

The machine I have in mind was recommended in Bonn for me, to strengthen my lower back muscles. I think it would also be ideal for Clive.

I phoned a contact we have at the White Cross (Croce Bianca), a voluntary ambulance service which has transported Clive to Germany 3 times now for treatment under the E112.

He’d never heard of a MedX machine and seemed very doubtful about finding one anywhere.

Which basically means that the only help around here for an ailing back is a corset provided by the Orthopedic Centre.

My 'bespoke' corset

Mine is made-to-measure which means it’s not too long or too short, and not too far round or too little round. It doesn’t reflect the direction of the curvature of my spine, and in fact would be exactly the same if the curvature were reversed.

I showed it to the spinal surgeon in Bonn calling it ‘the Italian solution’. He said it was of no benefit whatsoever.


December 27, 2011 1 comment

After some cold, windy days and nights, today we had a real treat. The sun shining onto the bench in front of the house was so hot that it felt like it was passing right through you and out the other side.

I sat there eating my lunch hoping that the smell of Salame Milano might somehow magically waft as far as the neighours’ house where Romeo (alias Kepler) was disporting himself with his blonde girlfriend.

No such luck, of course, but it did waft as far as the nostrils of the other 2 dogs who kept up an attentive vigil at a discreet distance.

Despite frost, snow, rain and high winds, the garden seems to reckon the weather’s been generally mild.

As well as the lingering roses, there are fuzzy green strawberries and yellowy strawberry flowers, sweet pea seedlings, Virginia stock, and one full-blown glorious anemone.

A very early anemone

Autumn-planted anemones are supposed to flower ‘almost as early as snowdrops and crocusses’. This one has beaten them to it by well over a month.

Boxing Day

December 27, 2011 1 comment

Watching the Chelsea/Fulham football match this afternoon on Sky, I noticed that the Italian commentary was using the term ‘Boxing Day’.

This isn’t Italian, of course. They call the day San Stefano, or Saint Steven’s – as in:

Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Steven.

Snow - deep and thick and even (not this year, though)

It’s a national holiday in Italy, just like it is in Britain.

But unlike Britain, tomorrow isn’t a holiday.

When a fixed feast-day such as Christmas falls on a Sunday, like it did this year, in Italy there’s no extra day off to make up for it.

Basically it’s tough luck.

Italians accept it with their usual fatalism.

Christmas Day

December 25, 2011 2 comments


To all our readers:



Merry Christmas,


Happy New Year!



Categories: Living in Italy

Up with the lark

December 25, 2011 Leave a comment

We did get up early – at 7.00 am – but that’s not what I mean.

I’m referring to Aesop’s fable of the lark, in which Mother Lark is only impressed enough to move her fledglings out of harm’s way when the farmer says he will harvest the wheat himself, rather than waiting for his neighbours to help him.

With this fable in mind, we decided to build the steps up to the pool ourselves, starting today.

First layer of the steps plus tools and materials

The first bit was quite fiddly and involved the following:

  • taking off skirting from round the column that the steps will be next to
  • gluing pieces of tile on the bare concrete at the back of the diagnostic hollow so the rim will be all the same level
  • making shuttering with pieces of polystyrene to protect the copper pipes
  • laying a piece of ducting from next to the pipes to a deeper part of the diagnostic hollow to take a humidity sensor in the future
  • mixing up concrete, using gravel rather than sand
  • pouring the concrete  into the diagnostic hollow near the pipes to give the steps an extra solid support
  • putting gravel in the rest of the diagnostic hollow and levelling it off

After this, things made rapid progress. We placed 5 (in total) 8-centimetre- thick ‘cordoli’ (heavy concrete curbs) to form the foundation layer of the steps. The front ‘cordolo’ is 12 centimetres thick and so heavy that I can’t even budge it pushing it along the ground.

It was brought into the house by the men who delivered it, along with 132 sacks of pellets for the stove.

One layer and that’s all for today, but we’re on our way.

Good old lark!