Friday, 31 July 2009

An early morning start.

The 'font of all knowledge' left at four thirty this morning for the two hour drive down to Rome to catch a flight back to London. Things must be looking up in the economy - all the British Airways flights were full apart from the anti-socially scheduled first slot of the day. We all got up at the same time to make use of the early morning cool and snatch a quick cup of coffee together. Not everyone rose from their slumbers gracefully - Wilf is not a morning canine and did his best 'if I keep my eyes closed they won't see me routine'. Having played dead he finally consented to shift to the front door but was unavailable for any form of communication thereafter . Not for nothing was he originally named Wilf as shorthand for wilful . It was left to Digby and myself to open the farm gate and watch the headlights of the car disappear into the distance. When I turned around to walk back to the house I found that Digby was sound asleep at my feet.Middle age catches up with all of us - two and four footed alike.
An interesting article in todays Corriere della Sera pointing out that the side effects of Tamiflu - the drug issued as a means of preventing swine flu - are worse than the flu itself. Nausea , sleep loss and high irritability are the most common symptoms. That's ok then.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Lost in scents and sounds.

The boyz were in a reflective mood this morning. They were lost in a world of scents and sounds and I got back to the house ten minutes ahead of them while they ambled along the farm track oblivious to the time. It never ceases to amaze me how totally different in character two brothers can be. Wilf is full of energy, rarely given to self doubt, and happy with his role in life. Digby with his bad hip is less energetic than his big brother, is decidedly more highly strung and only truly happy when he's with his folks. Of the two Digby is by far the most intelligent having had to learn the trick of outsmarting his big,rumbustious brother. Wilf was given quite a kicking by the robbers during the burglary, and while his ear has healed, I noticed on this mornings walk that his right back leg is still stiff.
We sat outside under the stars last night until we noticed that it was well past midnight and the two boyz had despaired of us and had taken themselves off to bed. The 'font' had discovered a marvellous quote from a 1959 speech in parliament by a junior transport minister. Introducing new legislation on motorway driving the minister said the legislation should be ' brief enough to be readable but comprehensive enough to cover every important point - like a lady's skirt, long enought to cover the subject,but short enought to be interesting'.How we laughed. Any politician attempting a comment like that today we be laughed out of the chamber - unless of course you live in Italy where blatant 'sexism' 1950's style seems to do the Prime Minister no harm at all. The 'font' rightly pointed out that Mr.Berlusconi survives, despite his alleged 'interest' in young starlets, because there is simply no alternative. His political philosophy is 'apres moi le deluge'. Although I'm no great fan of his I'd have to say that's right.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009


Wilf has been exploring in the fields. He returned from our early morning saunter with his face and coat covered in grass seeds and other assorted vegetation. The remedy was a fretful ten minutes of detangling with a comb with Wilf fidgeting and generally letting it be known that he would rather be somewhere else - anywhere else other than on the grooming table. He has now settled down into a deep mid-morning snooze to try to forget the traumas that faced him.
Todi is looking quite blissful this morning above the ripening vines . The local grape here is the sagrantino which is small in size, with a thick skin and a slightly acid note to its sweetness. Over the last four or five years the big Italian insurance companies have bought up many of the small producers which has resulted in a marked improvement in quality and an even more marked increase in price.
I was delighted to read in the papers this morning that the senior management of EADS the aircraft manufacturer are to be fined for what was effectively insider trading. It's good to see watchdogs doing what they are supposed to. Governments around the world are keen to expand their own powers through closer supervision of banks and other financial institutions. All of this additional oversight and cost will be a waste of money as the industry is already weighed down under a raft of incoherent regulations. To put things right what is needed is for 100 or so criminal lawyers to be put onto enforcing the current laws and be paid by result - many people on Wall Street or the City might then find that there is no such thing as power without responsibility.The prosecutors might want to start with a long hard look at High Frequency Trading - or what in my day would have been known as the cardinal sin of front running.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Crusty formality.

It's another day without a cloud in the sky. Seven in the morning and its already 25 degrees - it looks as if there is another 40 degree + day ahead of us. Dallas weather. Wilf and Digby , after a cursory tour of the olives groves,have retired to the shade of the courtyard and are giving every indication that they don't intend to move very far until lunchtime. Digby is on his back and Wilf has hunkered down into the cool grass. Their diet seems to be less than effective in this heat- while the kibble intake has been reduced by 30% their activity levels have also gone down . Net result is that their middle aged spread (like mine) remains firmly in place. I have just had an awful thought - what if it's true dogs and owners eventually end up looking like one another?
The gardeners failed to return yesterday with the oleanders for the new pots. They finally deigned to call at six in the evening to say that the plants wouldn't arrive from the nursery until Thursday. Not that we had much chance of peace and quiet. The pool man showed up on his Lambretta mid-morning - he's supposed to come on Thursdays. I'm sure his Christian name is Orlandoni - but the ' font ' tells me that Orlandoni is his surname. If so I have been happily greeting him with a rather crusty formality - the equivalent of saying ' Good Morning Smith ' every time we meet. I look at Orlandoni with a mixture of awe and suspicion.He wears bright plaid trousers that would be quite at home on a golf course but as everyday wear are a little strident for my taste. More worrying is his 'face furniture'. His exquisitely honed sideburns cascade down his cheeks to merge with a perfectly trimmed goatee - the total effect is rather like an extra in one of those 1940's Errol Flynn films about the Spanish Armada. For someone who has difficulty enough shaving this Italian emphasis on masculine grooming is quite alien - how much time must he spend in front of a mirror every morning?.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Why are Canadians so educated ?

An article in this mornings Corriere della Sera has an interesting chart showing the percentage of those completing college level education by country. Canada leads with 47%, the US with 39%, the UK 31% and Italy 13%. No Italian university appears in the global top 100 due to lack of funding and a personnel policy that makes it impossible to force tenured teaching staff out of their positions even if they literally do nothing. As a result most Italian universities have senior faculty members aged in their late 70's and early 80's . This is hugely dispiriting for younger members of staff who have to wait for their colleagues to drop dead before they can gain promotion. Naturally teaching and research standards suffer accordingly. Pisa University is reported as saying in todays paper that it only has funds to pay 60 out of 264 professors.These cultural and financial issues are clearly not problems Canadian institutions face!
After much discussion with the local commune we have now finally restored the old Roman wall in the courtyard and completed the reconstruction of the archway.Last week the wooden doors went in. To complete the 'tout ensemble' the gardeners arrived this morning with two large terracotta pots to go on either side of the wooden doors . We intend to plant large red oleander bushes in them to brighten up the rather stern and forbidding stone walls. The delivery went well, the team arrived at seven, nothing was broken, and the installation seemed to go according to plan. It's only now that they've gone back to pick up the oleanders from the nursery that I see that the two pots have been laid at what can only be described as an extremely 'drunken' angle. I am hastily looking up gardening terms in my Italian - English dictionary.
The two boyz have recovered from their weekend exertions and have been happily playing ball with the gardeners. Perhaps that's why the pots are the way they are.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Digby - exhausted after a late night.

Digby seems to be suffering this morning from the canine version of staying out too late. We had Italian friends who because of the heat arrived for dinner at the rather chic hour of nine o'clock and stayed until one. The boyz were naturally delighted to have company and after giving their usual enthusiastic greeting they sat patiently waiting in the courtyard while we ate. Despite their enthusiasm to play ball, by midnight their energy levels were flagging and they were keen to turn in. By the time our guests left they were beyond caring, by the time we had tidied up they were out of it.
This morning when I got up at five to water the olives trees there were two comatose dogs lying on the floor. After much cajoling they consented to make it out of the front door but refused to follow me down the driveway. They have taken up position in the shade of the courtyard and from the look of Digby will be there for the rest of the day.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

The bee.

When I started the blog I decided for the sake of simplicity and immediacy to only use the camera on the mobile phone. This means that from taking a picture to it appearing on the screen can take at most five minutes. This morning I went to take a view of Todi shimmering in the sunshine from the lower terrace in the garden. When I came to download the file and look at the picture there at stage left was a bee heading off for a mornings hard work in the lavender fields. At the centre of the photo there is also a large black and white butterfly sitting sunning itself on a lavender bush. Says a lot for the quality of the lens on my little Sony Ericsson.
The' font of all knowledge ' is taking an Open University maths course. This sudden immersion in science ( for which I can evince no interest whatsoever ) does throw up some interesting facts. Apparently 20-30 year olds in the UK have become so used to in-car navigation systems that the sale of maps to this age demographic has simply collapsed. People talk about map reading becoming in twenty years or so one of those lost skills like spinning or thatching.
Wilf is back in control of the soft sheep much to Digbys chagrin.It was 41 degrees here yesterday and the two troubadors were inside from lunchtime until seven in the evening.There is a limit to how much Polish Lowland Sheepdog boyz can sleep and it's not seven hours ! I played ball with them for forty five minutes solidly at midnight to get them exhausted. Both dogs and owners enjoyed a good nights sleep until awoken at three o'clock by the sounds of the summer party resounding across the fields. The 'font' recognized one of the songs being played at mega volume as having rather 'risque' lyrics but was uncertain as to whether it was by Amy Whitehouse or Amy MacDonald. It only goes to show what new horizons are opened up by the Open University Chat Room and an MP3 player.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Digbys thought du jour : ' This is the best day the worlds ever seen and tomorrow will be even better '.

July brings with it that peculiarly Italian phenomenon - the summer party. Across the country there is a sudden spawning of adverts for outdoors discotheques ( do discotheques still exist elsewhere ?) where the youth of the region congregate in a large open space to dance the night away to what passes in these parts for the latest hot sounds. Being Italy the noise level at these events is simply incredible and in the weekend small hours we can hear the thump,thump,thump of the music reverberating down the valleys.Tonight the signs promise the joys of the Maurizio Monti show and for next week there's a harder edge with DJ Frankie Knuckles. I can hardly wait.

Digby has managed to steal the new sheep toy from his big brother and is wandering around the garden with it firmly encased between his jaws. Having won a rare victory over Wilf his look seems to say ' this is the best day the worlds ever seen and tomorrow will be even better '. Not a bad philosophy and one I intend to adopt as my own .

Thursday, 23 July 2009

The automatic dog wash at the car wash.

We live at the end of what the Italians call a 'strada bianca' or more prosaically a farm track. At this time of the year the sun has dried out the dirt and every excursion in the car creates large billowing clouds of fine dust as we speed up and down the hill - rather like the effect that one used to see behind stage coaches in movie westerns of a certain era. Yesterday I was sent down to the car wash in the local town to get a thick layer of accreted mud washed off the rear window. As I was contentedly washing away with a power jet I looked up to find that a self service dog and cat washing system has been installed in one of the bays. The animal goes in at one end and comes out at the other washed,rinsed and blow dried. I can't imagine that Wilf and Digby would take well to the idea of a quick trip down the road to wash the car and shampoo the dogs.Mark you I can't imagine Wilf or Digby being happy at the thought of any actvity that involves water.
The next door neighbour came down in his antique combine harvester to give the lupins their second cut and collect the stems for winter cattle feed. It's proven to be a good crop requiring little care, no fertilizer, returning a good yield and all the time looking pretty.The two boyz were delighted to have the farmers company for the requisite ball games but had to be put into the courtyard once the harvesting proper started.
Their confinement was eased by a new play thing. The 'font' brought the boyz a new toy back from a recent shopping trip to the Harrods dog store. It is a soft fluffy sheep with a squeaker inside. Wilf has taken a great liking to it and even managed to smuggle it upstairs last night - a major no no. Thankfully these toys are designed with squeakers that last for two or three minutes before they are crushed by the relentless chomping of a sheepdogs jaw. Why is it no one has invented a squeaker in a dogs toy that can last for more than a few minutes? You would think the dog toy manufacturers might have figured it out by now.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

The shuttle flew over last night

The Space Shuttle , brilliantly illuminated by the setting sun , flew across the sky last night followed ten minutes later by the Space Station. We haven't seen a cloud in the last week and the nights are clear and just perfect - we are lucky to live in a part of the world where there is very little light pollution and so we can see the stars in every direction .
In the village activity, which is leisurely at the best of times, has slowed and the summer doldrums have set in.The high point of the day was the arrival of two cars with Belgian registration plates which parked (within the painted parking bay lines so clearly not locals) in the Square outside the church. Inside 30 seconds of them ordering coffee at the counter,the news got around that they were two families from Brussels and that the driver of one of them, the big black Jaguar covered in chrome, works for the European something or another ( precise details are never of paramount importance in village life ) and that they had rented a local villa for the summer. There could be no doubting that they were northern Europeans as they sat for an hour, pale skinned, on the cafe terrace exposed to the direct, and surprisingly fierce sun - there will be sunburn and regrets this morning. .
For my birthday evening I was paid (unannounced and unexpectedly) a visit by the mayor and then ten minutes later the head of the local Carabinieri. I don't know whether the visitors came for a glass of champagne or from a genuine interest in our recovery from the robbery - anyway it was delightful to see them. Italy can be disarmingly charming.
This morning the balloonists were up and out early with thirteen of the tender craft hovering in the skies over Todi.The two Troubadors were in fine fettle for their morning 'rosh' and are now settled in the shade of the courtyard waiting for the first visitors of the day.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Can dogs smile?

Can dogs smile? Looking at these pictures I think there is evidence to believe they do.
For my birthday today I asked for ,and received, an early edition of John Bunyans Pilgrims Progress. This piece of 17th century English literature was something I absolutely loathed studying at school. However, I've recently come to realise that everyday English as spoken in England is rapidly losing much of the richness and diversity that used to be its hallmark . It might be dumbing down but more probably it's just that people use fewer words to convey their thoughts. I'm going to use my time this summer to revisit some of those dutiful works that underpinned the sense of our cultural 'exceptionalism' and rediscover some of my lost vocabulary. The font of all knowledge says it's a sign of middle age.
What got me started on this rediscovery of language was a conversation with a friend who developed cancer ( thankfully now cured ). I naturally told him that he would be in our 'thoughts and prayers'. I didn't mean the 'prayer' part so much in an overtly religious way but rather in the sense that his travails would not be shouldered alone and that we would be there whenever needed. He expressed appreciation for our support but made an interesting statement that people today are deeply embarrased about showing personal feelings. Most people would say 'you're in our thoughts' but would find it difficult to express their feelings in a less general and more personal way. They certainly wouldn't say you're 'in our prayers' in case it caused offence. Previous generations of course had wonderful stock formulas for dealing with lifes different phases - something that we have lost . We stick with the 'thoughts' but have dropped the 'prayers' out of correctness or embarassment.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Chuckles all round

Chuckles all round in the bar this morning at the headline in the papers ' Nun fined for 180 kmh Pope mercy dash'. A motorway police patrol pulled over a Ford Fiesta clocked at 180 kmh ( 112 mph) to find a 56 year old nun at the wheel with two fellow nuns aged 65 and 78 in the back. Their excuse was that they needed to be at the Pope's side after he fractured his wrist : 'I know you shouldn't drive so fast but the news of his Holiness's injury has made us truly anxious'. The driver was fined €375 but she is appealing on the grounds of a state of necessity. Anyone who has ever encountered the weaving trajectory of a car full of nuns on Italian roads knows that what they lack in lane discipline and driving skills they more than make up for with the absolute certainty of a providential guiding hand. The lawyer who took on the nuns case recently defended a priest stopped for drink-driving on the grounds that the communion wine he sipped at four consecutive masses pushed him over the limit.Only in Italy!

There is a breeze this morning so the two boyz are out and about helping (hindering) the work in the fields. The young olives are developing rapidly on the branches and it should hopefully be a good crop come October. We were also delighted to see that the pomegranates are forming at a rapid pace - we've never grown pomegranates before so for us this is quite exciting.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Manic paw licking.

For some reason Wilf has started to lick his back paws with what appears to be a manic determination. He does it every year at this time - so it must be some form of allergic reaction. Has anyone else come across this problem? I wash his paws in a saline solution twice a day but it has no effect whatsoever.
Up to the local bar this morning. At last the tourists have started to arrive much to everyones delight. The Dutch and the Danes seem to have returned to their annual routine of migrating en masse to southern europe. Not a moment too soon - the hotels and restaurants are decidedly empty. Even the very fancy hotel on the coast that is always full has sent us an e-mail offering 35% off a room for nights between now and mid-August. Last year we were only able to get in, after a cancellation, in mid-September.
Swine flu mania continues to sweep Italy. In the supermarket the aisles were full of large displays selling disinfectant, face masks,and medical hand gel.

Saturday, 18 July 2009


Apart from eating the boyz favourite pastime is what I call the 'splosh' game. Wilf in particular is fascinated by the 'splosh' sound that is made when he drops a ball into the swimming pool. He can then stand totally spellbound for ages watching the ball bob around in the water. Within a minute of either of us clambering into the pool there he is, ball in mouth, waiting for the game to begin.'Splosh', throw, 'splosh' , throw until we get tired. I say we because Wilfs stamina and enthusiasm for the game always outlasts the amount of time the human component of the family can spend in the pool. Digby's rear quarters seem to be worsening but he does his best to get the ball and enter into the spirit of the game whenever we throw it directly to him.
In the UK a pool is an undoubted luxury. Here it is an expensive but life saving necessity. When it gets above 40 degrees it's the only place to be.
Afghanistan is proving to be yet another problem for the British government. The huge loss of life over the last two weeks caused by roadside bombs has attracted the medias attention to the fact that the UK deploys one helicopter for every 400 troops on the ground. The US marines fighting alongside them have one helicopter for every 33 soldiers. There are huge demands of the government for healthcare, education , unemployment benefits and so on but why send our 18 years olds into battle if we can't afford the equipment for them to do the job properly?

Friday, 17 July 2009

Bundles of energy

It's eight in the morning and already it's hot. The two troubadors are going to be kept in the deep shade outside by the pool until as late as possible this morning to make sure they are completely exercised and thereby avoid a repetition of yesterday afternoon. Keeping two supercharged Polish Lowland Sheepdog boyz inside on a scorching summers day is not the most relaxed of pastimes. Every toy in the arsenal was dragged out to see if it would distract their attention from the one overriding fact that they wanted to get out and chase lizards.Nothing worked.When the books say that PON's are a breed that need lots of exercise they are right.
Thankfully, 'the font of all knowledge' finally made it home last night and Wilf literally flew down to the car in a euphoria of greeting.His paws barely touched the ground as he shot off down the drive. It took four and a half hours for the 'font' to get back from the airport. There was a horrible accident on the motorway out of Rome with tailbacks of seven miles - two meat trucks had overturned on the central reservation, scattering carcasses all over both carriageways. Quite gruseome and just what you need in 40 degree temperatures! We dined outside at midnight and went to bed at two after much rebonding and ball throwing by moonlight.I'm hoping a late night coupled with an early morning start and copious exercise for the boyz will give us humans a quiet afternoon.
Our marvellous doctor in London came out with a sound and simple piece of diagnostic advice. If you're in the northern hemisphere and you are displaying flu symptoms then you probably have got swine flu - ordinarily, the height of the summer is simply not a time when flu is an issue so cases that appear now are pretty clear cut. The spread of the outbreak in the UK is proceeding exponentially.