This time six weeks ago, we were unpacking our suitcases, and unpicking the various hotel bookings, appointments and social arrangements that we had planned for the following two weeks, which we were to have spent in the UK.
We had entered a new world, as Italy locked down, and country after country followed.
We were then, and are still, in a position of incredible privilege during this strange spring. We are living on top of a gorgeous Italian hill, in a beautiful area, in (half) the house of our dreams, with over 20 acres of “garden”, in the form of an abandoned olive grove, vineyard and nut plantation that we are in the process of nursing back to life.
Over the next couple of weeks however, our world became smaller and smaller. We were initially required to stay in our local area, and then our commune, and then within 200 metres of our property, unless we needed urgent supplies of essentials for life. If we absolutely must go out, we have to fill out paperwork certifying that we understand the current regulations, and that our journey is indeed essential, according to the check-list on the government form. The police can (and do) stop you and check your documents – they also patrol supermarkets in order to confirm that regulations are being followed to the letter.
Initially, we floated from one essential task to another on the farm. For me at least, it was actually something of a treat to be at home so much. Scott has been retired for six months now, so has decompressed and learned how to relax, but I am now starting to find that I need a daily routine to keep me motivated.
I dug out my new pruning shears, and my long handled loppers, and Scott reached for the power saws. We pruned, and pruned, and pruned. We have four hundred olive trees, so with Holly always at our side, and Bella occasionally at our side (but more often, off doing her own thing), we were never stuck with nothing to do.
But one cannot live by pruning alone, and so, some new activities have crept into our life, including:
- Daily PE with Joe, live-streamed from the Bodycoach YouTube channel. This is an initiative for British families to replace school P.E. lessons, and has been running since schools closed in Britain. For me, this requires the application of a knee brace (arthritis) and an elbow strap (tennis elbow), and the exercise is done wearing a pair of gym pants that I bought in 1998, from the Tchibo catalogue, whilst living in Germany. I do own (slightly) less elderly gym attire, but it’s all packed in boxes, as I still live in a half renovated house, and all of my non-essential belongings are in storage. I loathe every form of sport, so gym kit was definitely non-essential until 6 weeks ago!
- A daily Italian lesson – either via YouTube, a reading exercise, or simply an hour or so on Duolingo. With our world now shrunk to the size of our little farm, and The Builder prevented from working, we could be speaking very little Italian at the moment. As a language teacher myself, I’m constantly embarrassed by my poor accuracy when speaking Italian (I sound like the English Policeman from ‘Allo ‘Allo when chatting), so my goal is to improve this before I return to work, and to my real life.
- Cooking – this has been a joy as well as a challenge. Our commune has various little shops, but only has a tiny “convenience store” for supermarket shopping. Our nearest supermarket is in another commune, and so out of bounds to us. Thankfully, they are rapidly developing an online shopping ability, which we have been able to use once. Most things are still available, but yeast is hard to find. In the spirit of “learning new stuff”, I’ve made a sourdough starter, and am getting to grips with making sourdough bread. We’re also gorging on wild asparagus, which is growing abundantly here, both in the garden and in the olive grove. The other day I even found wild fennel!
- Self Barbering – at least that’s what Scott calls it. I have no polite words to describe the “hair cut” he recently gave himself. I have yet to succumb to the temptation of box hair dye, but that is largely because I haven’t been able to buy any …
- “Live” Theatre and events – we are SO enjoying this! So far, we have watched Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat, One Man Two Guv’nors, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Andrea Bocelli streamed from the Duomo in Milan.
- Zoomertivo Parties – an aperitivo (or several) via the Zoom platform, with friends near and far. Great fun, with lots of laughter.
And then of course, we have the farm to keep us busy.
I’m still pruning olive trees, while Scott spends his days trying to mow the grass in the olive grove and vineyard. The tractor used to be known as Terence, but has recently had a name change to TFT (The F@*%ing Tractor). It has developed a Mystery Fault. Normally, when TFT causes problems, either The Builder, or a mechanic can diagnose and fix the problem in a jiffy. But nobody can visit at the moment, so TFT has come up with a belter of a fault!
After every break down and tinkering session, TFT decides to work, and starts at the first turn of the key. TFT then sits quite happily in the garage, running beautifully, until Scott says “yup, I’m sure it’s fixed now”, and sets off to mow the grass.
For ten minutes, TFT runs a dream, right until Scott truly believes he has fixed the Mystery Fault, and sets off down the hill. At the bottom of the hill, TFT stops.
And refuses to start again.
We think that this is because TFT is leaking air into the fuel system. Scott has changed various bits of TFT’s engine, and now knows how to prime the engine, or some such thingy. Eventually, all of this pumping and priming will drain TFT’s battery, and Scott will stomp up the hill, collect the wheelbarrow, stomp down the hill, remove the TFT’s battery, and then stumble back up the hill with the UNBELIEVABLY heavy (38.2kg, in case you’re wondering) battery in the wheelbarrow, in order to put it on charge.
This process is repeated every 48 hours, the middle day being missed to give the battery a really good charge, and also to give Scott time to repair all the other broken stuff, like the lawn mower, the tumble drier, the chain saw, pole saw, new boiler, and Hoovy, our little labour saving robot vacuum cleaner, who keeps getting lost.
Tomorrow we will find out if yesterday’s fault finding was successful, as whilst dismantling TFT for the umpteenth time, he found a gasket with a tiny little imperfection – hopefully a little imperfection big enough to let air into the engine …
But that will be tomorrow’s excitement!