Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Bath day

The boyz were up and out early for a long walk up the hill to the village. Wilf followed me at all the way while Digby,with his bad hip, stopped and rested half way before rejoining us on our return . After a protracted period of frenzied play with a large yellow soft toy the two troubadors contentedly settled down for a gentle post-exercise,early morning doze under the trees. It was at this inopportune moment, just as I was coming through the garden gate after watering the olives, that the font of all knowledge passed by and pointed out rather sharply that Digby had been rolling in something quite unmentionable. Hadn't I noticed that he had changed colour from white to what interior designers might call taupe? ( The actual word used wasn't quite as refined ). It was also pointed out that from a down wind distance of ten feet his odour could be mistaken for that of a startled skunk. A bath was needed - immediately ! Why is it that Digby becomes my dog at moments like this?
Bath time with two water loathing dogs is not something to be embarked on lightly. It requires preparation worthy of the D-Day landings. First a large zinc tub has to be brought out of the store room. Then, half a dozen watering cans filled to the brim with warm water need to be lined up, beach towels laid out, and all the other paraphenalia dog owners need to make their little darlings smell sweet and look vaguely domesticated got ready. That's the easy part. Then you have to find the dogs . Both our boyz are champions at the art of making themselves scarce when it comes to personal grooming moments. If you can find and then entice one of them into the bath you can be sure the other will disappear to some even more dark and secret corner to ride out the storm. By the time you find the second , let alone get him in the tub, the first will have found some mud to roll in.
Thankfully, the process is now completed . The boyz have been toweled dry and are sparklingly white and sweet smelling. They have been rewarded with a chew for being simply difficult rather than impossible. I am exhausted, soaked from head to toe, frazzled and believe that I should be rewarded with a drink.

Monday, 29 June 2009

The baby owl

On the morning walk with the two boyz we found a dead baby owl. It was spread out on the soft earth legs and wings akimbo as if it had suddenly fallen, mid-flight, into a deep and peaceful sleep. A hawk had probably chased it until it was exhausted and its small heart simply gave up. I found myself picking up the poor wee thing with a tenderness that I can't explain. You see chicks that have fallen lifeless out of their nests almost every day but there was something quite exceptional about the young owl. Even in death everything about it exuded simple majesty; the noble head, the graceful wings,the powerful beak, the infinitely varied tones of its feathers. Its sheer privileged perfection overwhelmed me. I laid the little body down under the shade of a tree and found myself shedding a single private tear . Amid the thunder of life there was time in the early morning silence to take stock of the fact the farm has lost one of natures genuine aristocrats.
When the family came down for breakfast they asked me if I'd seen any owls this morning. I said no. It was only half a lie.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Just like Nova Scotia

At the end of May I suggested to the font of all knowledge that we think of going on holiday to Canada for a week or so to get away from the heat - we find the country friendly,efficient, clean,with interesting wine,surprisingly good food and a laid back sense of fun. After much discussion we thought we might try Nova Scotia for the first time or go back to Vancouver which we know and like. The Canadian tourist board was gloriously efficient and a large envelope of cheerful material extoling the benefits of Halifax and Victoria Island promptly arrived a week later. I've never seen so many brochures showing happily suntanned families eating lobster against a backdrop of azure blue skies and lighthouses. Well,yesterday Nova Scotia came to Italy ( or at least its weather ) and decided to stay. After a glorious start the weather took a turn for the worse around noon and then went rapidly downhill. By two o'clock it was a chilly 17 degrees and then the rain ,thunder and lightning started. Digby , who is not keen on atmospheric disturbances spent most of the afternoon trying to make himself invisible under the bed. He graciously decided to emerge at dinner time but kept in close proximity to his 'folks'. This morning we awoke to a thick,impenetrable blanket of fog which is my idea of what life on the Nova Scotian coast in February must be like. The boyz are not impressed.

There was a huge wedding in the village yesterday. I felt so sorry for the young couple and their respective families
- the rain just came down and down in constant grey waves soaking bride and groom and the vast array of bridesmaids. Looking back at the diary entries for the end of June last year and the year before I see that the temperatures were in the high 30's and aridly dry , so quite where this weather has come from is anyones guess. Let's hope it goes quickly.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Earthquake,wind and fire.

If my schoolday memories serve me correctly there used to be a hymn that had a line that went something like: 'through the earthquake,wind and fire a still small voice of calm'. It is many,many years since that line has come to my mind but last night we had two out of the hymn writers three terrors- more earth tremors and a thunderstorm with winds of biblical proportion that literally picked up the garden furniture from the terrace and cast it into the courtyard below. We knew something strange was going on when a startled looking Wilf suddenly rushed up to us while we were having dinner outside and started scratching urgently at the kitchen door to go in - two minutes later the sky turned instantly black and a howling whirlwind slammed into the house. We managed to clear the dinner table ( I prioritized and saved the wine bottle and glasses ) before everything that wasn't tied down started to be blown around. Thirty seconds later the table and chairs ( all metal and quite weighty ) went sailing over the parapet and deposited themselves in the courtyard grass below. I thought whirlwinds only existed in Kansas.
This morning after some torrential monsoon type rain we woke to crystal clear skies with four eagles and two falcons floating overhead. The builders came at six thirty to fix the spout in the courtyard fountain - this is now gushing away to its heart content. I say gushing because instead of a gentle, calming rippling sound the fountain makes a noise like a miniature Niagra Falls. This may have something to do with the recirculating pump which looks as if it is big enough to single handedly work the bilge tanks in an oil tanker and pushes the water out at a 'muscular' pace. I shall speak to the builder and ask him if there is anything that can be done to moderate the rather alarming rate of flow.
After last nights traumas the two boyz are sensibly taking it easy today. They are settled down outside the front door under the lemon trees and keeping a wary eye on the swallows that are milling around overhead. It seems that the unspoken canine order of the day is to conserve their energy.

Friday, 26 June 2009

The mole scarer - doesn't!

Up and out bright and early this morning to find our pristine new lawns looking like a lunar landscape. The mole family have returned despite the deterrent effect of the solar powered mole scarers. It only goes to show that you should read the reviews on Amazon before you buy anything. 'Hopeless' was the comment posted by one purchaser of the mole scarers - a comment I chose to ignore at the time and have only belatedly come to recognize as sadly being all too true.
Mark you comments posted on websites should always be taken with a pinch of salt. If you go to tripadvisor.com and read the reviews you'll always find that there are a couple of deeply,deeply disturbed people who manage to find fault where ever they go. A hotel that gets a hundred glowing ratings will be sure to have a post or two complaining about finding glass in their soup or their room being situated above an active volcano. My favourite is a complaint about a grand hotel in Naples where an unsuspecting couple from the mid-west had their luggage,money and credit cards stolen somewhere in the 20 yards between the taxi at the front door and the reception desk. Being Naples the front desk staff were unwilling to honour their reservation without a credit card - a great way to start your vacation.
Beautiful weather here again after a cloudy spell. Digby decided to go exploring in the fields at first light and has come back covered in grass seeds. We have spent twenty minutes picking them out of his fur and from between his paw pads - attention that was not gratefully received.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Visas - how does anyone manage to travel?

Life becomes ever more bureaucratic. I was asked to 'pop out' of retirement for a day or two and go to beautiful New Delhi by a former client to help resolve a tiny 'problemette'. Although not entirely happy to go to central India at the height of the summer ( toe burningly hot coupled to dust storms ) it would have been churlish of me not to go. Enter stage left the new Indian visa regulations which require not only a raft of photos and mind numbingly dull documents to be submitted but also require your passport to be out of your hands for 5 full days while the application is processed in the embassy.Even getting a visa for the US isn't this complicated! It has now been suggested that we meet in Dubai, where the visa issuing process is altogether more relaxed. Dubai in the summer - must remember to pack sun screen.
The two boyz were up and out in the lavender beds at five this morning chasing lizards. You would think that after eight years they might have learnt that the lumbering charge accompanied by howls of delight is not the best way of creeping up on critters. However, stealth is not a concept that Polish Lowland Sheepdogs understand - much better to believe in the ever redemptive power of hope over experience. Anyway,the two of them returned from their morning adventure in the lavender blissfully tired and smelling like a perfume factory - quite an improvement from their usual odour. Post breakfast Digby managed to unearth a bright yellow long lost soft toy which he is now sitting contentedly chewing at the front gate - it is almost as big as he is which makes it particularly attractive. Wilf is most unhappy at his brothers good fortune in finding a toy and is giving off those plaintive looks suggesting that for the sake of natural justice I take it from Digby and give it to him.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

While the rest of Europe enjoys a heatwave we freeze

We are both wearing woolens this morning to deal with a bitter cold snap that has arrived from nowhere. Although it's now nearly seven-thirty it's still only 14 degrees and feels as if we're back in Scotland - naturally the two troubadors find the cool weather enervating and have been charging around the grounds as though they are puppies.

We have built a dog run for the boyz in order to let the assorted builders,gardeners,and other tradesmen get on with their work without being constantly bothered by requests for ball throwing . It is situated by the back gate of the pool amid the shade of the fig trees so they get a 360 view of everything that is going on in and around the house.Naturally, they both consider being relegated to the dog run as an absolute insult to their inalienable right as sheepdogs to control the movements of everyone who comes to the house.If dogs could be grumpy then these two would win a gold medal.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Wilfs occasional musing : " To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else".

Another earthquake

After the big earthquake in Aquila four months ago everything has thankfully been quiet - until last night when there was a huge tremor and aftershock just as we had turned in for the night. On the radio this morning it said it was a 6 on the richter scale and again is thought to have had its epicentre in Aquila - about 80 kilometres south of here. There was a rumble like an express train passing close by and then the whole house juddered sharply. Wilf who usually is aware of the tremors a good ten seconds before we are was just settling down in his bed when it occured - so he was as shocked as the rest of us. Thankfully, no damage was done either to us or the poor folks in Aquila.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Wilf, an orange ball and a swimming pool.

Wilf is the perfect dog - alert,obedient,and full of character. He simply adores playing ball and particularly the variant of the game where he picks up the ball and drops it into the pool with a satisfying splosh. This morning he carefully placed the ball on the pool edge, stared at it with eager conviction and then pushed it over the edge with the tip of his nose. We must have spent twenty minutes repeatedly playing this twist on the drop and throw game . Wilfs energy levels were barely dented by all this frenetic activity and he would have carried on and on had it not been for my calling it quits .

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Pool dogs

This mornings topic of discussion in the village bar centred round the latest sleaze allegations to hit Italys Prime Minister . These alleged activities are carried in lurid detail in todays Sunday papers and caused much chuckling and ribaldry from the espresso downing crowd of locals. From what I understand, after a series of mini scandals involving parties attended by teenage models and other "beautiful girls" (as the Italian press delicately phrases it) Mr.Berlusconi is now alleged to have paid a "former model and showgirl"( another marvelous Italian euphemism ) to attend a party at his Rome palazzo on the night of the US elections. The young lady in question is now claiming she spent the night there and that he promised to help her build a hotel in Bari in return for certain 'favours'. Nothing came of this promise, although the 'favours' were granted and the spurned real estate wannabee is now providing Corriera della Sera with some tantalising insights into Mr.Berlusconis private life. The most interesting revelation is that 'she ate pizza , drank champagne and watched videos of Mr.Berlusconi's meeting with President Bush ' - what passion arousing viewing that must have been! Usually Mr.Berlusconi adores being the centre of attention but this renewed fixation on his headline-grabbing private life is causing some Italians to doubt whether these antics are in keeping with the dignity of the Prime Ministers office.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Down by the pool.

The two boyz were raring to go at five this morning despite having stayed up until midnight to welcome the wanderer home. I half opened my eyes at first light to see two faces peering up at me from the side of the bed. They know better than to bark or scratch but will sit silently, staring fixatedly until one of us stirs. Their silent presence is usually enough to get one of us up to open the door and let them out. Who needs alarm clocks when you have PON's?
Wilfs absolute favourite game is to bring a ball down to the pool and carefully jettison it in the water for me to retrieve and throw back to him. He is simply transfixed by the sound the ball makes when it splashes into the water and will stand and stare at it floating on top of the water - for him it is an absolute marvel.We must have repeated the 'splosh and throw' exercise at least thirty times when I went in for my afternoon swim yesterday afternoon. Digby is altogether less keen on going near the pool as it full of that dreaded element ...water!

Friday, 19 June 2009

Evening thoughts

Waiting for the better half to return from London I've been reading the new Oxford University history of Germany . Skimming the pages I came across the following comment by Martin Niemoller,a former concentration camp inmate, who wrote in 1945 about the German church during the war : " We reproach ourselves for not witnessing more courageously,for not praying more faithfully,for not believing more joyously,and for not loving more ardently". Even today , no matter what ones creed or belief it's not a bad guide for life in a troubled world.

A saharan sunset.

Last night, in the absence of the font of all knowledge, the boyz sat with me down by the pool watching a most glorious sunset - we stayed out until well past midnight playing ball and enjoying the cool air. At this time of the year the winds from the Sahara bring masses of fine red sand which coats everything it comes into contact with. As the sun goes down the light reflects off these dust particles in the air and turns the sky a deep,deep orange colour.Quite spectacular.
Despite the late night we were all up and out by 4.45 this morning to play ball, check on the olives and water the lavender.The rich scent from the lavender as it comes into bloom is worth all the time and effort. We will harvest so much of it this year that serious consideration must be given to getting it sold off to a perfume maker. The large factory in Perugia that used to take the lavender cuttings for scent has just closed down - a sad victim of the recession. This morning for the first time I noticed swarms of light blue butterflies feasting on the fresh lavender flowers.
Wilf has just finished off my breakfast time strawberry yoghurt - there is nothing he likes more than to sprawl out indecorously on the ground and settle down for some serious and concentrated licking of the inside of the carton. Living with two Polish Lowland Sheepdogs is like living with two clowns - their ungainly antics from dawn to dusk make me constantly laugh out loud. The two of them are now on the grass outside with a stuffed toy hoping for some playtime excitement before I head off to the village bar to catch up on the latest gossip.
With the temperatures still rising some more fur was trimmed off them yesterday and attempts were made to give them a thorough grooming which met with varying degree of success - Digby is perfect on the grooming table ( he loves the attention ) but Wilf is a constant fidget and is always trying to get down . The end result is they may not look like pedigree PON's with their hair cut short but at least they are cool in this most un-Scottish heat.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Morning walk time !

It's my turn to be alone in the house while the font of all knowledge goes back to London for a few days. Being incapable of making anything more demanding than a bacon sandwich I can just about survive two nights on my own. Long ago it was discovered that I could turn even the most foolproof of recipes into a culinary disaster. Pasta takes on the consistency of soup, meat becomes leather and fish becomes simply unrecognizable. I was finally banished forever from the kitchen when my pork roast was incorrectly identified as well done beef. As a result of my severe culinary ineptitude a variety of dinners are cooked ahead of time and all I have to do is slip them into the oven to warm up. It would have worked perfectly last night had it not been for a phone call from an old friend in Chicago who rang two minutes after I put the tray in the oven. After chatting for the better part of an hour I belatedly remembered that there was only one thing I had to remember to do - take dinner out of the range after twenty minutes. Plus ca change...

Come five o'clock this morning the two boyz were raring to get started . In the absence of human company to complain about a lack of sartorial elegance I can throw on a sweat shirt and shorts and be out of the house and on the walk within two minutes. Today is just perfect, sunny but with the mildest and most refreshing of breezes. The porcupines have been snuffling around the house during the night so there were plenty of exciting scents for the two troubadors to follow. They have dutifully escorted me around the grounds ( clearly sharing the opinion that I can't be left unattended for long), watching as I watered the new olive trees and putting the sprinkler on the lavender beds. After three hours of constant activity they are played out and ready for a sleep . I'm ready for a long shower and a dip in the pool.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Back from London

I went to London for a quick visit on Monday lunchtime and flew back yesterday afternoon.From the delighted reaction of the two boyz when I got home you would have thought I'd been away for a month not 24 hours! No sooner had I walked into the house than Wilf appeared with a ball in his mouth ready for a game. The two of them were so fired up with joy that we played ball on the soft grass of the courtyard for thirty minutes solid .
Sheepdogs are so incredibly family orientated. If one of us is travelling Wilf seems to feel that he has managed to lose part of his flock. He shows his unhappiness by not sleeping well and by sitting at the gate for hours on end looking out along the road for the car coming down the hill. How he can tell with absolute certainty which car is ours, as opposed to the vehicles owned by the local farmers, is one of those recurring canine mysteries.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Where have all the tourists gone?

The mole scarer seems to be doing its job - still no telltale signs of our little furry friends. At the bar to pick up the papers by six this morning. It was already twenty five degrees and giving every indication of being another scorcher. The two boyz gamely went outside for half an hour at first light but have sensibly decided to opt for a lazy day and have now hunkered down in a cool spot under a copse of pine trees in the fields. No wonder the 50% rations diet isn't having any impact - in this heat neither dogs nor humans want to do much exercise.

Talk amongst the locals in the bar again centred on the lack of foreign visitors. The local pizza restaurant owner has built a new terrace with unspoilt views overlooking Todi - last night he had just one table booked, and that was for locals. It seems as though Europeans have opted to either stay at home this year or will book their holidays at the last moment. With gas up at €1.30 a litre again touring holidays in the car are quite an expensive option for the Swedes and Germans who have to drive a thousand miles just to get here.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

A sunset scratch by the pool.

The boyz are sensibly down by the pool where it's relatively cool - after a simply scorching day it has now turned into one of those blistering New York nights without a breath of wind and irremovably high temperatures. We tried sitting out on the terrace for a glass of wine but we've come in to watch Miss Marples on television . You can take the Scot out of Scotland but .....
A strange bird has been flying around in the early morning . I caught a (bad) photo of it sitting outside the kitchen just before breakfast .Whatever it is it makes a raucous noise and looks rather tropical for this part of the world.I shall have to ask the local farmer tomorrow morning.

Into the summer routine

With the temperatures now getting into the high 30's every day we and the two boyz have well and truly settled into our summer routine. This means getting up before five in order to be out of the house and on our first walk of the day while we can still enjoy the cool early morning air. At that time of the day there is no one else around apart from the last of the deer scampering back to the forest. If the boyz are lucky they may catch the scent of a porcupine or hare.
Post walk there's breakfast at six and from then through to eleven its just about possible to work outside with our actions closely monitored by the two sheepdogs from their position under the shade of the pine trees. Today we started on weeding and straightening out the lavender beds. It was only when we started that we noticed that the lavender lines were covered in hundreds upon hundreds of butterflies - Cabbage Whites and Red Admirals - which flew up and scattered everywhere as we approached. Faced with such simple, glorious beauty we decided to enjoy the view rather than disturb them. Why is it butterflies seem to have disappeared in the UK? perhaps our decision to revert here to organic cultivation is already having an effect on our local micro-systems?
Come eleven and then through to three in the afternoon we and the boyz are in the house with the shutters firmly shut. This way we can escape the tarmac melting conditions outside while following our Scottish doctors admonition to avoid the melanoma inducing noon sun. When we lived in Scotland the temperature would occasionally get to 20 or 21 degrees on a particularly good northern summer afternoon - here it's hotter than that by six thirty.The boyz have taken to the new schedule really well. As soon as lunch is over they curl up on the cold stone floors and take a two hour doze to recharge their batteries. It's been so hot today that we have been raiding the freezer and feeding them ice cubes every half an hour or whenever they've ventured outside - thankfully they seem to view ice cubes as a great treat.

Digbys thought of the day : " We have a choice : to plough new ground or let the weeds grow ".

Saturday, 13 June 2009

The mole scarer day 2.

Another of those perfect days - not a cloud in the sky and the view across the valley to Todi crystal clear. The solar powered mole scarers are installed and busy doing whatever they are supposed to do - so far this morning there are no signs of our little flippered friends. Late yesterday afternoon (having heard about our purchase on the super efficient village grapevine) the local farmer and his son came down to look at the new mole scaring apparatus - I think they were rather disappointed that the scarers look like solar garden lights rather than some state of the art sci-fi type contraption.
The boyz constantly amaze me with their enthusiasm for life - the second I finish my breakfast toast and coffee they are at the front door urging me to get my shoes on and making it clear that they want to get out and start the day without losing a second of exploration time.This morning they were off down the drive, turning round from time to time to make sure that I was keeping up. Wilf bounds ahead while Digby,with his sore hips,tends to lag a little as the walk progresses. I chat away to the two boyz on the morning walk - a character trait that further reinforces the locals view that I'm harmless but not quite right in the head - in short the sort of person who would invest in solar powered mole scarers.
At the bar in the village this morning the talk was of two motor cycle accidents that happened last night. One young chap wasn't looking where he was going and drove into a tractor that pulled out in front of him while in the second the rider lost control taking a corner at speed. Thankfully, both of them seem to have a few broken bones but are otherwise just fine. The number of accidents on the roads here continue to amaze and alarm me - it is as if there is a communal denial that there is a traffic problem. For a country where the family is the dominant social feature you would think that there would be pressure on the young folk to drive responsibly. But no - people drive while reading, while talking on the phone,and the weekend accident rate among the young is something any anglo-saxon would find terrifying and unacceptable. In northern Europe there is a sense of care and prevention when driving with speed limits and strict police traffic enforcement - here in the south people live with a concept of destiny - what will be, will be - so why obey the rules and why enforce them?.

Friday, 12 June 2009


These rather fuzzy pictures were taken surreptitiously by me around nine thirty last night as the sun was setting. Not content with having hectares of fields to run around in, let alone a large garden, the boyz have secretly taken to playing by the narrow pool edge. This is just where the ground falls away sharply towards the valley below.They know its forbidden. But as all dog owners know - in the canine,as well as the human mind what's forbidden is undoubtedly the best fun.