Sunday, 31 May 2009


Its overcast today. After the heatwave the clouds and breeze are a welcome change. The boyz are definitely enjoying the cooler weather and were to be found out on the gravel drive bright and early for their morning charge into the fields. Digby's hip is getting decidely stiffer the older he gets - hip dysplasia is a characteristic of the breed -so we have to try to stop him from over exercising. His big brother has no problems with his hips and would bound around all day if given the chance.
Today is a day for doing all the things that we were supposed to do but put off because of the heat. It's now getting time to plant sunflowers in the fields next to the house. I'm in two minds about them. They certainly look very Italian when there are acres of them to look at. The downside is that acres of bright yellow flowers can become quite tedious in the bright sun and you end up yearning for something cool to look at.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

What a night.Guarding done. Time for a doze.

A huge hail storm blew up in the small hours of the morning,roaring through the olive groves, rattling the shutters and causing Digby to retire under the bed for security - he spent the night there snoring away happily (and loudly). The noise of the marble sized hail stones pounding on the roof was so loud that even top dog Wilf eventually came up the stairs to sleep on the floor next to the bed. When dawn broke we did a quick tour of inspection to see what damage had been done. It appears that most of the newly planted trees have survived and the only major damage seems to have been to the walnuts which have suffered dreadfully from the cold winds. After a storm and rain the two boyz seem to find a whole host of fresh scents and smells in the fields to keep them happily occupied. They went out after breakfast at six and have been contentedly barking at rooks and foraging in the woods for the better part of two hours. They have now retired to the courtyard for their customary sun soaking morning doze. After last nights storm and the earth termors of a couple of months ago I now understand why the Bible speaks of the terrors of 'earthquake,wind and fire' - sat on top of a little hill in the middle of the Italian countryside civilization can seem a long way away and the links to our past very strong.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Dog heaven

After their morning walk the boyz were still full of energy and followed me round the garden as I watered the increasingly parched looking plants. The tactic of keeping them up until midnight paid off and Wilf slept solidly without constantly licking his paws. The paw biting must be an allergic reaction as it only occurs in high summer and will disappear again when the weather cools down. My guess is that it's the canine equivalent of hayfever. They are both in the courtyard sprawled out on the cool grass and soaking up some early morning sun.

We went to buy a new lawn mower yesterday. Shopping here is different in one basic respect from the rest of the world. In the UK or the US the shopkeeper is delighted to welcome you into his store and help you in order to make a sale. Here in Italy the store owner will sit behind his desk and glare at you in silence annoyed that his sanctuary is being invaded. In the first store we waited for ten minutes while the assistant was on the phone.When he finished he ignored us. Finally I went up to him and asked if they sold petrol powered lawn movers."No!" came the reply. Would it be possible to order one I asked. "No!". What the service lacked in charm it made up for in succinctness. In the second store we waited for twenty minutes while the staff studiously managed to do everything other than catch our eye. Everytime I tried to ask a question I was told they were busy. In the end we gave up, came home and ordered on Amazon.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Summer lazing - sheepdog style

It's been a relatively cool 32 degrees today which has meant that we have been able to work in the fields and the garden without burning up. The boyz have watched our activity with interest and every half an hour or so they will leave the shadow of the trees and come over to check that what we're doing doesn't involve food. Some of the new oak trees are having to be watered twice a day as they're definitely suffering from heat stress. Thankfully, the olives seem to be holding up pretty well after the scorching heat of the last three or four days. At this time of the year Wilfs allergies kick in - there must be something around, a pollen or particular type of dust, that causes him to bite his paws manically. The vet wants to give him a steroid injection but I'd prefer to treat it in a less aggressive way. We'll sit out under the stars until midnight tonight by which time the two troubadors will be so tired they'll sleep all the way through - allergies or not!

A sheepdog finds a cool place away from the heat

A huge thunderstorm last night. The sky was alive with bolts of lightning shooting horizontally as well as vertically through the clouds. Wilf slept soundly through it all but Digby, being a sensitive soul, went and hid under the bed as the thunder rolled around our little hill. This morning we woke to a wonderful fresh breeze and fields that have turned green again after a good two hour long dousing with rain. Wilf,having rested well, was game for anything and followed us out into the olive groves. Digby by contrast let us know that he was exhausted after losing a nights sleep and propped himself up against a pine tree where he could both doze and watch what was going on.
The new lawn in the courtyard is growing at an alarming rate. I cut it two days ago and it already looks as though it has put on a weeks worth of growth. In Scotland everything about the seasons was temperate and the gardens grew at a slow but constant rate. Here the plants know that they have to grow and bloom before the summer sun cakes the earth as hard as a rock - as a consequence the growing season can best be described as short and sharp.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Time to open the pool

The boyz came face to face with the swimming pool this morning. We close it at the end of September when the heat starts to go and usually open it up again at the beginning of May. This year we are well and truly behind schedule but at seven this morning,after what seems like dozens of phone calls,the pool maintenance team finally arrived to get it ready. In this part of the world, with the temperatures hovering around 40, a pool is an absolute must.

The boyz treat the pool with great respect. Wilf has twice in his life managed to fall headlong into the pool when he wasn't concentrating. On both occassions he had all the bouyancy of a stone and had to be fished out. Digby has fallen in once and now gives it a wide berth.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

The best place to be on a hot morning - under a tree looking for lizards

Oxford in the sun

We had to go back to the UK for an old friends wedding so on Friday afternoon we loaded up the car with blankets and dog bowls and put the two boyz into the kennels for the weekend. We flew BA out of Rome on a gloriously smooth,punctual and comfortable flight, spent the first night in London and then hired a car and drove up to Oxford on Saturday morning. The weather was perfect, not a cloud in the sky and a healthy 22 degrees. Oxford was looking quite beautiful but apart from a healthy number of American day trippers from London,clearly suffering from a lack of foreign tourists despite the low level of the pound. Driving up to the wedding on Sunday morning through unspoilt little villages on empty roads I'd have to say that the English countryside has a beauty all of its own when the weather is this good.
After the refreshing sunshine of the home counties it was a shock getting off the aircraft in Rome last night. Italy is enjoying/suffering a heatwave (depending on your view) and a wall of hot,moist air hit us as we walked down the jetty to the terminal. It was more like Atlanta in August - hot,humid and tiring. There is more heat to come. Todays temperature are set to climb to a debilitating 40 degrees. Anything below 30 I can cope with, but when it gets this hot everything needs to be done by eight o'clock in the morning - after that it's simply too hot.
The boyz were up and out with us at five this morning - absolutely delighted to be back into their normal routine. I think they enjoy a night in the kennels but find three nights away from home to be a bit stressful. They have had a quick bath this morning to restore their coats to something approaching pristine whiteness - how they get so filthy in the kennels is something I never understand. Wilf seems to be licking one of his paws and uncharacteristically grumbles if I touch it or wash it. It's possible a grass seed has worked its way under the skin next to one of his claws - a trip to the vets is called for later today.

Monday, 25 May 2009

We're back from Oxford, the boyz are back from the kennels,it's nearly ten at night and it's still 35 degrees !

At the weekend we went back to the UK for a wedding of an old friend. The weather in Oxford was perfect and the town was full of American tourists wondering why the Brits compain about the weather.While we were away the temperatures here in Umbria got to 38 degrees - that's 100 or so in old money. We picked the two boyz up from the kennels on our way back from Rome airport - they are not happy with this heat. They are currently sitting out under the trees munching on ice cubes and displaying a cool indifference to the family that deserted them.Canine disdain!
Coming down the drive I notice that the weirdest plants I've ever seen have sprouted all over our newly laid grass. Will post more tomorrow - it's too hot to blog.

Friday, 22 May 2009

In the shade

The new irrigation system has malfunctioned and we have a jet of high pressure water gushing out of the ground where a pipe has fractured. The boyz are maintaining a healthy distance from this alarming source of water. I am off to round up a plumber. First the new alarm system goes on the blink and now this. The other side of life in paradise.

It's a hot one today.

Up and out at five this morning while it was still fresh. The grass seeds growing along the field boundaries are beginning to dry out and fall to the ground. Unfortunately, their sharp points get caught in the boyz fur when they go charging across the fields and can work their way painfully into the skin or ears. This is a reminder to us that we are now well and truly at that time of the year where the two boyz need a finger tip check after a walk to make sure they don't have any seeds that have got caught between their paws or behind their ears.The joys of long haired dogs.Thankfully, the sheep are grazing at the foot of the hill so ticks aren't much of a problem.

The temperature is set to rise to 36 today ( mid 90's) and we're still in May - what is August going to be like? Up in the local bar the hotel and guest house owners have woken up to the fact that their bookings from foreigners are way, way down from last years levels. One guest house has just added twenty new rooms and only has three reservations from overseas for mid July through mid August. Thankfully, the absence of foreigners is being compensated for by a rise in demand from Italians who are saving money by vacationing at home. The problem for the hotel owners is that locals are much more cost conscious , and prone to haggle, than the high margin Dutch and Brits.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Who designs security systems?

After last months robbery and injuries we have had a new and improved burglar alarm fitted. It promises to be all singing and all dancing , The man who installed it says it should be able to detect any bad'un getting to within fifty metres of the house. After the first night of living with the new system its clear there are some problems with its design . Firstly, the control panel looks as if it has fallen off the Space Shuttle and requires a doctorate in electrical engineering to operate it ( by the way, why is it that instruction manuals are written in some strange language that approximates to English but excludes all the important verbs ?). Secondly, the infrared detectors which have been carefully set so that they won't set of the alarm when a hedgehog wanders past have clearly got a mind of their own. Every time a hedgehog wanders past they go off. I put it down to teething troubles, the better half used a different phrase ( which I won't repeat ) at one o'clock this morning , then at two thirty and again at four. My first job this morning is to get the engineer down here to fix it.

It's another 33 degrees day ( 92 to those of you in the US ) without a cloud in sight. The two boyz have had their usual morning rosh ( rush out, saunter home ) and are now settled under the trees in the courtyard wondering what mischief lies in store for them. They had another coat trim yesterday to try to improve on the first attempt which left them looking rather unkempt.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

33 degrees - little progress on Digbys weight loss

We would have slept in until five thirty had it not been for the unexpected arrival of our neighbour the farmer and his team of workers at five o'clock prompt .Sleep proved impossible amid a roar of petrol engines and clanking treads as a convoy of caterpillar tractors and John Deeres arrived in the fields outside the bedroom window. I was greeted with a cheery hello and the statement that this was the best time to cut the lupins before it gets too hot. The temperatures hit thirty three yesterday and are set to rise to thirty five today - so an early morning start in the fields is an absolute must.
The boyz were delighted that we had company and rushed out to greet the early morning arrivals with unbridled joy. Wilf with singular determination drafted the workmen into an impromptu ball throwing exercise. Even though they are now well into middle age their enthusiasm for what each new day might bring remains undimmed. I guess that's a pretty good way to live life and a reminder that dogs can teach their owners a thing or two. They are now settled down in the shade of the courtyard trees in preparation for a serious morning nap.
I'm not sure that Digbys diet is having any effect but it's early days yet.

Digbys thought of the day: " Not all those who wander are lost ".

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Twenty minutes chasing pheasants through the olive trees

Great excitement on the morning walk - pheasants! The two troubadors stumbled across half a dozen pheasants merrily feeding in the long grass. It would be difficult to say who was the more startled -the pheasants or the dogs. The birds immediately took flight, rising vertically from the undergrowth with a thunderous crash of their wings and much clucking.The boyz by contrast froze solid,rooted to the spot in absolute amazement and an all absorbing canine delirium. After a minute or two, during which time the pheasants had travelled at least five hundred yards, our brave sheepdogs started hurtling around nose down through the wild flowers in an attempt to track their elusive prey. Every so often we would catch a glimpse of one of them in the distance in happy, carefree pursuit of the now long gone birds.It might have helped their chances if they had gone in the same direction the birds went. This teaches me two things.Firstly, dogs really are living proof that hope can triumph over experience.Secondly, if you're looking for a sensible hunting dog that can prowl stealthily through the forest then don't consider Polish Lowland Sheepdogs..

The morning walk took place at six this morning. I'll wait to see if anyone raises the issue of the planned five o'clock start.

Monday, 18 May 2009

30 degrees

One of the fun things about blogging is being reminded what a wonderful and diverse world we live in. I mentioned a couple of great blogs last week and recently came across a blog 'Romping and Rolling in the Rockies' ( with some excellent pictures of the author mountain biking with her dogs in Colorado . I look longingly at the pictures of snow capped mountains every morning just to feel cool . The mercury got up to 30 degrees yesterday and is set to go higher today. The boyz were out at six this morning for their walk but after half an hour in the fields it was getting to be uncomfortably warm and they were delighted to get back into the shade of the courtyard. The better half has informed me that from now until the end of September we are moving onto Italian time - up at five , an afternoon doze between two and four and then to bed at midnight. I like the idea of an afternoon siesta but we'll see how far we get with this latest idea of getting up early at five tomorrow morning .

In the wider world the scandal over legislators expenses in the UK parliament has now entered its eleventh day. This afternoon we may get a vote on whether the Speaker, an ancient and venerable position, should be removed from office for complicity. The last time a speaker was removed happened was in 1652 . Don't let it be said that popular democracy is dead!

Sunday, 17 May 2009

"It's not what you look at that matters,it's what you see"

Sunday contentment

There is an old Scots word 'claggy' that describes the weather this morning - hot and humid. Looking out across the valley visibility is down to three or four kilometres and the air is thick with heat and moisture blowing in from the Adriatic.

After their six o'clock walk the boyz have contentedly settled down on the cool grass in the courtyard and are showing no signs that they will be moving any time soon. Wilf as top dog is on alert and looking around while his little brother has fallen into a deep primordial sleep.
In the wider world the Italian finance minister has said that the recession is over and everything is quickly returning to normal. That's ok then. In Britain the scandal over parliamentary expenses continues to rumble along - its now into its tenth day and looking as though it might claim some major political scalps. The Brits as a nation are usually disinterested and disdainful of politics but the current unexpected scandal seems to have touched a deep chord and ignited widespread popular anger. It is almost as if unfairness is the one national taboo that cannot be broken. No one can deny that it's great spectator sport seeing the great and the good trying to deal with the national mood of discontent - many of them still don't get it and face the cameras saying they've done nothing wrong. This of course only serves to stoke the Jacobin fires yet higher.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Dishevelled dogs return from their morning walk

We actually had some clouds this morning which enabled us to do a couple of hours work outside before it got too hot. Digby is feeling very sorry for himself with his sore paw and the after effects of the injection. However, his usual 'I've never been fed in my life give me a rice cake' routine is cutting no ice and he is on half rations and zero treats in an attempt to reduce his weight.The problem is that with his sore paw he is barely ambulatory and I can't see him getting much stomach flattening exercise until it's healed up. Suggestions on dieting techniques greatfully received!

The ninth day in a row with the newspapers in the UK exposing the crass venality of our elected politicians. Yet another Member of Parliament has been exposed for claiming for a non-existent mortgage. The whole affair is banal but has generated a widespread anger with the ruling 'elite' that I've not witnessed before - a bit like Tom DeLay and the 2006 (or was it 2007?) Congress. The gravy train attitude of many politicians seems to have aroused the ire of a nation that believes that it is basically unfair for MP's to be living the high life while many of their fellow citizens are facing penury in the recession. I only hope frustration with the existing parties doen't allow the extremist organizations to do well at the polls for the European Parliament in June - once they get 10% of the vote under proportional representation they are eligible for state funding.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Digby's reflection of the day upon returning from the vet : " Fall seven times,stand up eight ".

Digby has returned from the vet having had his paw dressed and cleaned - it was probably a scorpion sting. Horror of horrors during the examination the vet said that he is unacceptably overweight (24 kilos) and is to be put on a diet in order to lose 3 kilos. I naturally got the blame for the little darlings weight gain as I am supposedly always slipping him snacks - or so the vet was told .The parallels drawn between my middle age spread and Digby's were I thought quite uncalled for . It's fortunate I don't have a thin skin. Thankfully, it has not been suggested that I go on a diet or take up exercise so Digby will need to face the new regimen on his own.I'm waiting for someone to suggest that I scale my weight back in line with Digby.

Off to the vets

A couple of weeks ago Digby developed a large sore on his front paw - it could have been a grass seed that had worked its way into his paw or a bite from a bee, a small scorpion or possibly even a snake. We've been diligently washing it in hot salty water twice a day and then applying tea tree lotion to calm it down. This morning he didn't want to get up, walked around the house with his head down, and then to let us know he was really unhappy he refused to get out of his bed to come with his brother on the morning romp. That's serious. Thank heavens we have a wonderful lady vet. She has agreed to see him before surgery this morning so we're all packing up and heading off in the car. Children can tell you what hurts.With dogs it's a much more intuitive process trying to determine what is merely an off day and what could potentially be a problem. When one of the family clowns is sick everyone knows!

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Wilf out for a brief exploration in the sun

The day has been the scorcher that it promised to be on our morning walk. Faced with the heat the two boyz have sensibly spent much of the day asleep on the stone floors of the hallway. One of the big differences between Scotland and Italy is the internal furnishings of the house. In Scotland every room was carpeted, wallpapered and curtained. Here we have stone or terracotta floors, wooden shutters and painted or stone walls. The reason for the absence of all those trappings deemed essential in the north is of course the temperature - it would be a rare day in the Scottish summer when the mercury rose above twenty degrees. Here in Italy we've seen the thermometer register forty-two in the summer and it's usually in the mid to high teens at dawn. That's why the boyz activity sessions are restricted to before eleven in the morning and then after six at night - in other words they are allowed out when the sun is past its hottest.
Today we've used the tractor to cut a strip of grass around all the fences to keep snakes and porcupines from getting into the area round the house. As you'll see from the photo taken this afternoon everything in the valley is still beautifully lush and green after the heavy rainfall we had over the winter - in fact it looks more like Ireland than Italy. This emerald colouring won't last if the heat experienced today continues. Within a fortnight the fields will likely segue from green into the first yellows and ochres of the wheat harvest.

Summer - lemons,pomegranates,and walnuts

Summer is well and truly here. It's seven o'clock in the morning Italian time and the heat is building up. Wilf and Digby have had their morning constitutional and have now contentedly settled down in the shade of the porch to await the arrival of the gardeners. For some reason the woodland around is full of cuckoos this year and their distinctive call has been echoing around the hills since first light. Why they should be so prolific this year is another of those rural Italian mysteries .There is something about the cuckoos call that makes sleep absolutely impossible.
In our quest for an environmentally friendly life style we have been busy planting trees. In addition to the standard fare of oaks, olives and pines we have also added walnuts and to us, wildly exotic pomegranates and lemons. For shade we've put in a huge plane tree to cast its shadow over the front of the house. All of this has required the return of the gardeners to make sure that everything is well staked and irrigated before the dry winds from the Sahara start to blow in June.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Wilf's morning thought:"The best way to cheer yourself up is to cheer someone else up".

Another day in paradise.

It's been a week now since the weather morphed from merely good into glorious. Blue skies, the mildest of breezes and temperatures that are still cool enough to work in. All the things that we left beautiful ,but damp, Scotland for.The boyz are having the time of their lives stretching out in the long grass under the pine trees in the courtyard, chasing lizards , and bothering the workmen. On the morning walk with the two troubadors I came across a gladioli like plant that has sprouted in the olive groves - yet another wild flower that will need to be researched. Are they native plants or have they somehow escaped from a garden?
A troubled night. After the burglary we have now upgraded our alarms and had security lights installed - hence the reappearance of workmen in the house. The lights are supposed to come on whenever anything weighing more than 30 kilos crosses the movement detector.That at any rate is the theory. Last night they were coming on and going off every twenty minutes - boy, do they generate a lot of light! This constant triggering of the system either signals that the wild boar / deer are using the garden as a shortcut or ( more likely ) that the lights have been installed incorrectly and are coming on whenever a porcupine shuffles past. I'm preparing for a long conversation with the electricians.
The olive groves are now nicely ploughed, fertilized and weeded. There soon won't be much more to do other than keep their bases from growth. Not that we will be able to do much more outside once the temperatures rise into the 30's.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Wilf's morning thought:"Whoever is happy will make others happy too".

Morning walk - the boyz track a polecat

The strange droppings that have been appearing in the driveway over the last month or so belong to a polecat. I thought these animals only existed in remoter parts of Montana or the north of Scotland but they are apparently native to the whole of Italy. The local farmer has been logging in the valley below and the appearance of humans and machinery has driven a lot of the animals up the hill and towards our little sylvan glade. The good news is that the polecats eat vipers. The bad news is that they produce a strong oily foul smelling secretion from their anal glands to mark their territory. It was this scent that got the boyz up and raring to go this morning. Because of the possibility of snake bites I took them out of the farm gate on leads . However,we had barely gone five yards before Wilf and Digby had detected the pungent odour and found themselves transported to a frenzy of canine delight. Their noses were down at ground level and the two of them were scooting backwards and forwards, entirely lost in a world where they were the hunters and the polecat was the prey. Their little stumpy tails were wagging at that hyper speed that denotes ecstasy in dogs. The two of them are now back ,safe,exhausted and very dishevelled.
The newspapers here have picked up on the venality and sleaze that is emerging from the publication of British MP's expenses.I can't work out whether Italians are shocked that our elected representatives are defrauding the taxpayer or whether they are shocked that the sums involved are so small.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Wilf's take on life :"The only way to have a friend is to be one".

Two decidedly unhappy boyz this morning. We set off for the morning walk at six, but had gone no more than three hundred metres when my ever observant partner noticed that the soft white sand along the farm track was covered in snake trails. There must be a large vipers nest somewhere in the long grass under the olives. This is the time of the year when the snakes are laying eggs or rearing their young and the sudden burst of warmth makes them decidedly feisty. For some reason it is impossible to buy the snake venom antidote in Italy - the two alternatives a dog owner here faces are either a trip to Switzerland where the antidote is still sold or a mad dash to the vet. We have a snake bite kit that requires you to pull out the poison using a vacuum plunger - I have zero faith that it would work. The boyz were quickly called back from their ramble and have been confined to the garden for their own safety. I've found some blogs like vetblog ( and dogsdeservefreedom( to be really helpful when faced with new and unexpected threats to our canine friends.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

The reality of dog ownership

The boyz have discovered the irrigation system. We have set the automatic sprinklers so that they come on to water the newly installed lawn twice a day. Ordinarily the two troubadors have a healthy disregard for water believing it to be the root of all canine evil. Not so today. The two of them have been racing between the sprinklers trying to keep ahead of the jets of water. They have failed miserably in their attempts to outrun the water and we have now found ourselves faced with two sodden, vegetation covered dogs wanting lunch. Never, ever believe that mischief is far from the minds of your dogs!

A walk through Rome to Palazzo Farnese

Probably the best office in the world belongs to the French ambassador to Italy. The French Embassy now fills the Palazzo Farnese, the finest of all the Renaissance palaces in Rome. It is a simply enormous oblong building , built while Henry VIII was King of England. Michelangelo was responsible for much of the design, which is arguably why it is so succesful. The ambassadors office , which spans the centre of the first floor, has a huge painted ceiling which is said to compare favourably with that in the Sistine chapel. The courtyard is quite simply magnificent and full of Roman remains from the charioteers school that stood here two thousand years ago , excavated when they were building the Palazzo in the sixteenth century.There are a number of great little restaurants serving the ever critical French diplomats along the Via Guilia next door.