This is the finished Nativity Scene in Valtopina.
It’s a little piece of the Holy Land based on a theme of mountains and caves, with miniature tableaux of activity tucked into pockets of the landscape.
A cascade of water runs continually from the highest point.
The Holy Family is hidden in a cave in the centre with the Christ Child lying on straw between an ox and an ass.
The orange notice at the back proclaims that the scene improves each year (thanks to our contributions). It’s certainly the most elaborate I’ve seen yet.
It’s midday, when the Rehabilitation Centre people are due to arrive. The dogs, unaware, are by the patio door.
Taylor won’t be fazed by anyone coming. He’s relaxed and curious with everyone. “A new crotch to sniff,” we quip.
He loves going for drives but I can’t take him if I’m fetching sacks of pellets (no room for both), or if I have to leave the car in a supermarket car park. He begs me for hours in advance, after interpreting my plans from the clothes or shoes I put on.
He’s unique among our dogs in giving a short bark when he wants to come in rather than scrabbling at the door or the window. (The smears on the patio glass are from Galileo.)
I often see him cock his leg – sometimes to overlay the signal from a cat, undoubtedly – but I’ve never even seen him defecate. He has nine hectares of unfenced land to go in, and he disappears and does it privately, a long way from the house – unlike our other dogs whose efforts can be inconvenient to say the least.
He’s so linguistically alert that it’s become impossible to embed a synonym of ‘feed the dogs’ in a sentence without him picking up on it.
When invited (and occasionally without invitation) he rears up almost to shoulder height – thirty-five or so kilos of solid, huggable bulk.
The lower registers of my violin and of Clive’s saxophone stir him to utter a soaring, harmonic, siren-like howl perfectly suited to communicating over tens of miles of frozen tundra. (We take it as a compliment.)
We’ve waited long enough; I let Taylor out. Then I let him in again.
At 1.20 pm two cars pull up and five people spill out.
The main man glances at Clive, comes no nearer than a couple of metres, and then spouts non-stop for the entire visit, rebuffing any attempts by anyone else to make a contribution. It’s a whole load of gift-of-the-gab, I-like-the-sound-of my-own-voice waffle based on no knowledge whatsoever of Clive’s medical condition, history or capabilities. He pronounces that Clive and the Centre are incompatible.
After that, no-one else’s input is relevant so we don’t even hear what they have to say. They leave.
From the window I see the man continuing to hold forth while the others stand round and listen. Mercifully I can no longer hear him.
The photo shows the parasite which grows on a lot of the oak trees round here.
I call it yellow mistletoe, but it actually isn’t like standard kissing-bunch mistletoe at all, having different leaves – none of them in the typical pair.
Just the other day while exploring around the place, I came across two spherical bunches of white-berried, traditional mistletoe growing on a wild service tree.
They were too high to photograph properly let alone cut down. Otherwise I’d hang one above Clive’s sofa; it might sweeten the encounter due tomorrow with staff from the Rehabilitation Centre who have been looking askance at him ever since a third party stuck their oar in.
At the back of the house, where other things like roses got watered during our absence, the lavender bushes have survived.
The one closest to the house, a battered and straggly bush, even has one flowering stalk.
In the front of the house, however, where the lavender was planted just behind the stone wall that retains the raised ground around the oak tree, it’s a different story.
All three big, cascading bushes are dead.
Almost. I spotted one tuft of healthy leaves the other day and I’ll watch out for any more when I do the clean-up.
I assume it was lack of water. The rosemary, the wallflowers and the cotoneaster growing right alongside are fine and will close up the gaps in a year or so.
I have to see the garden as evolving continually – it’s the only way I cope.
Galileo is an archetypal self-starter.
He requires minimal stimulation. His excitement comes from inside but can find its focus in a rustle or a twitching leaf or practically anything small enough to suggest he’d be competent to hunt it.
Like a kitten, he’s quite capable of patting something into life and then believing in it.
He goes outside late at night to frolic among the moon shadows, safe in the knowledge that no Bad People are about.
There’s enough joy in this dog to light up a good-sized light bulb.
It’s not the colour of a tomato and it doesn’t eat tomatoes, but it does look like the calyx of a tomato – which I’ve always called a tomato spider despite it only having five legs.
This spider would be about the right size for a cherry tomato.
There’s more than one in the room because I’ve seen two at a time, but they’re so fast as they scoot up and down the walls and windows that otherwise it could be just one super-energised specimen.
They don’t spin webs but hunt insects by stealth – or so I believe, not having as yet witnessed a kill.
They really are green – most attractive – but not very well camouflaged on our pink walls.
Every Christmas our town of Valtopina constructs a nativity scene in the same place and along the same basic lines.
It consists of a landscape of cliffs and glens and forests with, as its main feature, a stream of real running water that turns a miniature water wheel.
Somewhere in this landscape, bathed in light, is the Holy Family, with various shepherds and kings trekking their way towards them.
I haven’t seen the completed scene this year – it was unveiled last night – but this was how it began.
The young man in the quilted jacket is being advised by his grandfather, just visible.