Spring is Springing

As usual, we’ve been rather busy of late, hence the lack of blog posts. And as is to be expected with Olive Hill, nothing is straightforward, and everything takes 15 times longer than one would reasonably expect!

So the house renovations have not actually started yet, even though the “six month project” should be completed by the end of June, in order that we can welcome guests into our Bed and Breakfast suite this summer. The log cabin project is also behind, as we need an agronomist to come out and declare that the farm business requires log cabins in order to be sustainable, before we can even apply to apply for planning permission.

Meanwhile, we’ve had a succession of builders, plumbers and electricians in and out of the house to give quotes. Or not to give quotes, with no explanation as to why they are not giving quotes. Luckily, everyone knows everybody else’s business here in our little village, so we are in no doubt that the missing quote (from the builder that we really want to use) has not been provided because the poor builder has “problems with his son”. Of course, he hasn’t told us this, but several neighbours and our plumber have told us, so I guess that we just wait for it patiently.

With the prospect of a Hard Brexit looming, we’ve also been quite busy trying to sort out our residency here in Sabina. Scott is almost there, after the nice policeman (the same chap who came last year to certify that our compost heap was in regola) came out again to check that Scott actually lives in the house with the legally compliant compost heap. The nice policeman visited several weeks ago, so now we’re just waiting for the paperwork to reach the very busy ladies in the comune, so that they can press the button on the computer. My paperwork will take a little longer, because before the nice policeman can potter up our track for a third time to certify that the signora with last year’s legally compliant compost heap, who answered the door on the day that he was required to certify Scott’s residence at the property, we need to wait 30 days. To be precise, we have to wait 30 days from the date on which Scott received a letter giving him 30 days to place a formal objection to his wife moving into the house in which he is resident. Of course, he popped into the comune to state that he did not object, but the very busy ladies do not have a button to press on their computer to register this, only a button to press once the 30 days have expired.

We also need Italian driving licences before a hard Brexit, so first we need residency, then we need three photos, then we need a medical (on Tuesday afternoons at 3pm) then we need to part with several hundred Euros, and our current driving licences, wait a couple of weeks, and voilà! We will be Brexit proof.

Outside, we are busy pruning, aided by Lou and Jou, our proper agricultural workers. Everybody else is also pruning, so they can only spare us one morning a week at the moment, but it is really wonderful to see order creeping in to previously untouched parts of the grove.

The vineyard is pruned and ready to go, and the two areas of scrubland either side of it have been cleared, prepped and seeded by “Eddie Grundy”, our neighbour at the bottom of the hill, who will take a hay crop later this year.

And, of course, the blossom is absolutely stunning this year, after being killed off by the frosts last spring, that also carried away several citrus trees and all of our soft fruit crop. As well as doing the lion’s share of the pruning, mowing, strimming, log cutting, bonfire burning, dog walking, cooking, cleaning and gardening, Scott is also pruning back the fruit trees, paying close attention to my instructions (as I head out to a day’s teaching in Rome most days) to wear his safety equipment, and to keep his feet firmly on the ground … I hope!

All in all, we are working hard, playing hard (first set of spring visitors have already been and gone), and we’ve made some real progress taming the wilderness, even if we haven’t renovated the house yet!

I promise to try harder with the blog updates, but I do a better job with Facebook and Instagram, so do please follow us there if you’d like more frequent news!

My Grandmother, and Kryptonite

I am the grand daughter of a truly amazing woman. A woman with an incredible super power.

My grandmother was born in Manchester, North West England, and lived a humdrum life until she was about seven years old, when she contracted tuberculosis, which led to the amputation of her knee cap. In the days before the National Health Service, she spent the most of her subsequent childhood in some sort of sanitorium several hours away from home, with little contact with the outside world, including her parents. Then came the war. In her telling, she learnt to dance, and then she married my grandfather.

Despite her “gammy leg” as she called it, she and my grandfather led a charmed life.  They had two children, and lived in various countries including (to name a few) Libya, Sudan, Kenya, Kuala Lumpur, Kenya, India, Iraq, and Barbados.  Eventually they retired to North Yorkshire, and lived a contented life surrounded by friends and families.  They threw many a great party, and their “curry lunches” were legendary.

Her super power? The unshakeable belief in two little words …

I

Can.

Now well into her nineties, she is a little bewildered, but living happily in a care home in Yorkshire, where her naughty sense of humour, kindness and all round Joie de Vivre make her adored by everyone. All was going extremely well in the care home until last autumn, when she was involved in a “three lady pile up” and broke her gammy leg. She was hospitalised, and her leg was encased in a plaster cast. This cast turned out to be my grandmother’s Kryptonite, although we didn’t realise it until much, much later. We actually thought that we were going to lose her. Just in time for her ninety-sixth birthday, the cast was removed, and slowly but surely, her super power returned. Once again she is holding court, the battiest, bravest woman on the planet.

I like to think that I have inherited my grandmother’s can do attitude to life.

However, we’ve lately had a bit of a reality check at The Olive Hill, included, but not limited to the following:

  1. It’s been raining A LOT. Outside (obviously), but also inside, particularly in the bathroom, where the rain has been pouring in. The photo shows day one of the leak, the ceiling is now soaked through.
  2. We haven’t yet found a builder for the renovations. The first was too expensive, the second was too incomprehensible, and the third (so far) has been too, um, uncontactable.
  3. As well as leaking water, the house leaks icy cold air. Most days, poor Scott spends several hours bringing wood into the house for the fire, and the blooming boiler.
  4. The tractor broke down. Again.
  5. The trees need pruning. Again.
  6. We keep being invaded by our neighbour’s pigs.

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7.  My commuting in and out of Rome has been subject to so many delays. I’m on a train now that is only running eight minutes late, but my record for the year (and it’s the first week of February) is over two hours.

8.  Our to do list just keeps getting longer and longer.

And this has all led me to the discovery of my own Kryptonite. And mine is not a plaster cast, mine is a “word” that I was NEVER allowed to use in my younger days:

C

A

N

T

Thirty years ago, I was lucky enough to meet a young man with the same can do super power as my grandmother. We will never have the adventures that she did, but we’ve had more than our fair share, and now is no time to become can’t doers instead of can doers.

So.

  1. Time to mend the roof (especially as the sun is shining again).
  2. Time to sort ourselves out with a builder.
  3. Time to get a new boiler (see note two)
  4. We’ve already got the tractor fixed (maybe time to look for a new tractor?)
  5. We’ve started pruning.
  6. We called the neighbours.  They fixed the pig fence, and brought us round a huge bag of wild boar meat by way of an apology (time to make a casserole).
  7. Time to investigate on line English teaching instead of face to face lessons.
  8. Time to point out to myself that I’ve just knocked several items off the to do list.

I realised I was suffering from Kryptonite poisoning yesterday, when I almost cancelled a much anticipated day out with friends because the car needed servicing.

So enough. I would like to publicly apologise to my grandmother, and tell her that I promise to sort myself out. And now I’m going to run to the bus stop, because the train is pulling into the station.

I can

I can

I can.

And so can you.

Renovations Are Coming

And all of a sudden, the pace of our Olive Hill Life is changing.

Scott has three weeks left in the office, then we will spend Christmas at home in the UK with our family.  Upon our return, the renovations will begin, and our casa campagna will be redesigned, renovated, remodelled, refurbished, reconfigured, revived, redecorated and reinvigorated.

The house is not actually that old, originally having been built in the early 1970s, in its day, it was probably TIMG_20180622_182504084.jpghe Most Stylish House in the village.

That day is long gone, however, and so we currently live in something of a shrine to a life long since left behind.  So long since, in fact, that some of our design features are apparently once again in fashion, thanks to a concept which I believe is called “seventies modern”.

I have no real idea what seventies modern is, to be honest, but if our current bath tub is “de rigeur”, I think that I’d prefer the “modern” to the “seventies”.

 

That said, trying to decide how to upgrade a house which is basically habitable is proving something of a struggle, albeit a vital one, as I have no plan to continue with our current level of “luxury” any longer than is absolutely necessary.

And yes, as you can see, after a long day outside, we do use the bath tub!

After the bath, top of the list of things to be changed, is the one and only modern appliance in the house: the three year old boiler, or furnace.  Oh, how I HATE the blooming thing.  On the one hand, it is wood fired, which is a good thing, as we have a lot of wood to burn.

On the other hand:

  • The wood that it consumes in a day takes an hour to bring into the house, then a second hour to clean up all the mess that you made taking ash out of, and wood in to the house.  Then a third hour to lie down, exhausted, and recover from the exertion that the last two hours took.
  • It burns at two speeds, either smouldering gently and producing no heat at all, or burning so hot that it boils all the water in the system, causing noxious fumes of burning paint in the boiler room, melting the thermostat, and creating the (hopefully) illusion that it is about to explode.
  • It needs to be stoked up with kindling, or great big lumps of wood approximately every thirty seconds, depending on whether it is smouldering or boiling the water.
  • Whichever you stoke it with, it will either go from smouldering to burning the paint, or vice versa.  There is no in between.
  • Before you leave the house for longer than ten minutes, it must also be stoked, causing it to either boil the water, or go out, leaving one in a constant state of anxiety about what will be found when one arrives home.
  • Likewise, it must be stoked up before bed, causing sleepless nights in case the blessed thing explodes while you are in bed.
  • It never, ever stays alight when you leave the house or go to bed.

The situation with the boiler leaves us very glad to have seen a couple of seasons through before deciding exactly what to do with the house, as it was not even on our “to do list” back in August, when all we were thinking about was air conditioning and a pool.

Just like the land, the house must earn its keep, so we will be incorporating a self contained letting bedroom into the design, as well as allowing for guest bedrooms upstairs.  This is where the renovations become rather more exciting for me, as I dream my way through magazines, glossy brochures and websites filled with gorgeous images of free standing baths, rain water shower heads and glamourous kitchens with eye watering price tags.  Scott is equally content making plans for solar roof panels, a bio gas plant in the basement, and a rain water harvesting system.

We must, however, start to become interested in each other’s ideas pretty soon now, as Giorgio the Geometra is starting to become concerned about getting our plans agreed by the commune in time to start work, in order to meet our self imposed deadline of the 1st June opening for the bed and breakfast unit.

GeeGee has already rained on our “glamping” parade, as apparently we will face a million bureaucratic hurdles to install our log cabins, so now we are trying desperately to add words like “yurt” and “hobbit hole” to his vocabulary, in the hope that they will involve less bureaucracy.  It’s true to say that glamping is not really a part of your average Italian’s vocabulary when it comes to holiday concepts.

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Of course, despite the change in the season, work outside never stops.  To Bella and Holly’s delight, our Proper Agricultural Workers have been busily felling trees (to improve the view from the bed and breakfast room), carting wood up for the boiler, and have now commenced cleaning up the vineyard, in readiness to start pruning back the vines at leaf fall.  All of these activities are The Most Exciting Things For Dogs Ever, apparently.

This weekend, as well as viewing mobile homes (we’ll need a roof over our heads during the renovations) and finalising the plans with GeeGee for submission to the commune, we’ll be bottling up our first bottles of white wine, in readiness to take home for family and friends at Christmas.

If 2018 has been the year of doing “The Most Exciting Thing Ever” many, many times, I do actually think that bottling my own wine may just take the prize.