Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Digbys private moment.

The 'font' is away in London so it was left to Digby to make sure that I didn't sleep in. True to form there he was at 5.28 am sitting at the side of the bed, eyes focused on me, willing me to get up.The first few minutes of the day are when Digby and I share a secret ritual. Every morning he comes to sit by me, claws delicately tiptoeing across the stone floor, so that the second I stir he's ready to flip on his back , sprawled out, ready for a private tickle . He wraps his two front paws around my arm, throws his head back, closes his eyes and exhales a protracted rush of pure undiluted canine happiness - you can literally see all his cares evaporate away. No matter how much of a hurry I'm in this routine is set in stone - the mornings first commandment . Wilf of course sleeps contentedly through, prefering to catch as many zzz's as possible and quite unconcerned that his little brother is the centre of attention. 

Looking at the two of them I'm more and more of the opinion that Digby knows that Wilf is a dog but hasn't made that connection to himself. Wilf would play ball and chase lizards all day whereas Digby would prefer to sit down and have a wee chat.

It's political party convention time in the UK. Why is it that politicians treat the electorate in such a cavalier manner? The governments tax take has fallen by 30%, the country's GDP has contracted by 5%, unemployment is soaring, and yet the Prime Minister made his keynote speech without so much as alluding to the enormity of the problems the nation faces. We got more of the 'promise paradise and hope for the best' view of politics rather than down to earth realism.Tax hikes, spending cuts - best to talk about them after the election ( let's see if the opposition Conservatives do any better at their conference) . The word venal springs to mind. Of course it's entirely possible that the public finances are so bad that he doesn't want to alarm us unduly.

Headline in the Financial Times this morning saying that British intelligence believe that Iran started working on a nuclear warhead in 2005 and is now getting close to deploying it . After the fiasco of the non-existent Iraqi weapons of mass destruction who is going to believe them now?

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Tractor tyres - Wilfs first task of the day.

Wilf is sound asleep on the doorstep contentedly warming himself in the early morning sun. He followed me through the olive groves bright and early,sniffing the porcupine scents and generally making sure that everything on the farm was to his satisfaction. His first duty in the morning is to christen all the tractor tyres - job accomplished he then runs to catch up with me, ears trailing behind him. He gets completely lost in the wonders of the morning walk and every so often looks up from his olfactory explorations to find that I've walked fifty yards further on.There's then a huge rush to catch up with me before he gets lost in his thoughts again and the process is repeated over and over . He is a gentle, amiable character whose greatest sorrow is being separated from his family. We shall need to take extra time to reassure him that all is well and that his place in the family hierachy is secure when the packers move in. Digby decided it was far too early to be out and about and settled at the farm gate awaiting our return.
The Italian Prime Minister has done it again. Returning from the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh he told a rally of his supporters that he was bringing greetings from someone in the United States. "What's his name? Some tanned guy. Ah, Barack Obama. You won't believe it but he and his wife sunbathe together because the wife is also tanned". Is there no one in his entourage who can explain the term bad taste?

Monday, 28 September 2009

Summer returns.

We're still being rationed to one picture a day by the blogger gremlin - so here's a view of Digby demonstrating the aerodynamic properties of his ears while Wilf looks on. It was a wonderful late summer day yesterday with the temperatures reaching 30 and with a stiff, warm wind blowing away the post rain humidity.The two boyz were as happy as two dogs could be.

The British Polish Lowland Sheepdog magazine , the Nizziny, arrived in the Saturday evening post. From the latest edition I discovered that :

PON's (Polski Owczarek Nizziny) are now called PLS's ( Polish Lowland Sheepdogs). That makes life much simpler.

Wilf and Digby's father has died at the age of 13. He is described as having passed onto 'his progeny a superb gentle nature and love of games'. That would be Wilf 100%. As for Digby he must take after his mother. The 'font' wondered over a late evening glass of wine whether the boyz would know their brothers and sisters if they were to meet them again after 8 years or whether they would just think they were just any other dog? Scent would be a big factor.

The magazines health officer has written an article with the follwing line " We fear the breed will become short coated and owners will start to cut the hair over the eyes therefore risking injury to the eyes". We trim the boyz coats to help them cope with the summer heat and to make it easier for them to work with me in the fields without constantly getting caught up in seeds and branches- the coat grows long again with any apparent problems or deterioration . As for trimming the hair over their eyes we've always done this as it seems to make them more relaxed if they can easily see what is going on around them. When we left it long Digby, in particular, would sometimes be startled and would be overly defensive. Is the danger of eye damage real?

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Digby on guard.

One photo at a time seems to be the only way to get anything uploaded onto blogger -so here's a photo of Digby looking stern or at least trying to. I tried to post five pictures of the boyz when I got up this morning but an hour later the screen was still showing the sign 'publishing in progress'. Let's hope normal service will be resumed as soon as possible ie when the Italian satellite company conducts routine maintenance.
The last of the swallows left yesterday morning - a small flock. We watched them slowly circling the house,almost as if saying goodbye,before heading off on their long flight down the peninsula to Sicily and then the crossing of the Straits of Messina. I'll miss their cheeky chirruping and their graceful,carefree,morning aerobatics as they come swooping over the swimming pool to snatch a beak full of water. It seems to me that swallows, alone amongst the bird kingdom (with the possible exception of robins),somehow recognize the people they share their home with. The cicadas restless summer long song has also suddenly stopped - another sure sign that the heating system will soon need to be serviced and the gas tank topped up.
The closer we get to moving day the more frenetic life becomes. Italy is the land of pointless bureaucracy and the 'font' has been rushing around trying to obtain all the documentation needed for the sale - certificates that the drainage system has been approved, that the walls are earthquake hardened, that the water doesn't contain lead or mercury etc etc. A more thankless task it would be difficult to imagine . As a result the 'fonts' vocabulary is growing by the minute and now encompasses the Italian for gutter, downpipe, flange and monkey wrench.This will be useful if ever we wish to return and open up a hardware store.
With the move getting ever closer, the boyz and I have been throwing out 'stuff'. It's a wonder how much useless junk one manages to collect on the journey through life .I though we'd massively downsized after leaving Scotland, but no, the 'stuff' just keeps on coming back and growing.Wilf and Digby's part in the clearing out has been snuggling down next to me while I fill up rubbish bags and then leaping up with carefree abandon everytime I go to put them in the back of the car. A journey to the waste dump with the rubbish is the perfect canine day out.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

A partial victory.

A partial victory over technology. After much effort the satellite link has been momentarily restored and we've managed to connect with Blogger . As if by magic (and some less than gentlemanly expletives while waiting for something to happen) one photograph of Wilf's smiling face has appeared . The other photos of Paris and of Digby that were posted at the same time have evaporated into the ether. The problem seems to be with the Italian satellite provider whose service alternates between the merely mediocre to downright awful - the uplink speed needed for posting has slowed to a sub-snail pace.
Paris was at its most beautiful. Sunny, warm, and the gentlest of breezes which made walking an absolute delight. This time I stayed,as I do when I'm not on business, at the Pavillon de la Reine on place des Vosges - without a doubt one of the most beautiful townscapes in Europe. When I got back home on Friday night the 'font' and I had a long discussion about which city we prefer - Paris or Rome. Paris is beautiful, stylish, chic and in the Haussmann planned arrondissements very,very formal. By contrast Rome is chaotic, unplanned, and its cultural jewels are scattered around with a casual disregard. The 'font' opted for Paris (could the shopping be something to do with it?) while I opted for Rome. The discussion as to whether French or Italian cuisine is the better is ongoing and unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.
Wilf and Digby are in fine fettle. Their welcome on Friday evening when I walked through the door was nothing short of ecstatic. A combined 45 kilo mass of fur, cold noses and pink tongues hurtled through the air at me as soon as they registered my presence.When the boyz get really excited their entire rear ends start to move independently of their front ends . The front legs move forwards but the back legs follow a strange trajectory that sweeps from side to side and up and down at one and the same time.After eight and a half years the 'font' and I still end up laughing out loud at their antics.
The move is now less than three weeks away. At breakfast this morning the 'font' handed me a sheet of paper and informed me that household effects can't be lumped together but need to be listed item by item for the removal company. What in heavens name are household effects? Who came up with that name? Anyway, there goes my Saturday morning.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Blogger doesn't like me today.

Blogger doesn't like me today. I've tried seven times to upload some pictures of Paris and of the two boyz but nothing happens. I checked to see if the capacity on Picasa had been exceeded but no I'm only 33% full. I'll keep trying but for some reason these problems seem to be happening more frequently. Does anyone have any magical tips on what to do when this happens? .

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Wilf's pancreatitis.

Off to Paris later today so a lot to do before seven thirty. The two boyz were out with me early checking on the progress of the olives. The world is at its most peaceful in those salving moments when the sun is just dusting the hilltops. It looks as thought it will be a bumper harvest although the way our moving schedule is shaping up it will be up to the new owners to harvest them.

Wilf's old pancreatitis flared up again yesterday - it seems to return , regular as clockwork, every ten days . We have to be very strict on what he eats so the recurrence seems to be mechanical rather than dietary or stress related. Experience has taught us that the best thing to do is take him for a long walk to tire him out and then let him sleep the pain off. After four hours he's back to his usual self.

The 'font' has helpfully noted that we are supposed to provide the removal firm with an itemised list of every item in the house (together with valuations) which they will then wrap and pack for us. Not as easy as I'd thought it was going to be. Hopefully, by the time I get back the list will have been compiled!

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Accountants and lawyers.

All yesterday a growling autumnal storm doused us with torrential rain. Digby opted to hide under the bed with his favourite soft toy for much of the day while Wilf contentedly dozed through it all quite oblivious to the tumult outside. Who would have believed that two brothers could have such totally different temperaments? This morning the ground is soft underfoot and covered with a layer of golden leaves - autumn is well and truly here.
Activity in the household remains firmly focused on the move. The packing company has been booked and I've dutifully had palpitations at the price they want to charge. "Surely", I said to the 'font', "they've sent on an estimate for moving the furniture at Buckingham Palace". How droll. It only goes to show how much one acquires over the years even though we thought we'd downsized dramatically when leaving Scotland. This time rather than drive ourselves into paroxysms of hyper-activity we shall leave it to the removal men to pack . This isn't laziness but rather the result of reading the small print on the shipping contract. In clause thirteen thousand eight hundred and something there is a line which says anything we pack ourselves is excluded from the insurance cover. This had me muttering under my breath at the sheer venality of it all - particularly as the insurance premium seems to be roughly the same size as the GDP of many developing countries.
Tomorrow I'm off to Paris to see lawyers and accountants about a move back to France. All horribly grown up and tedious but at the same time necessary.The new house, which is in a part of France we've never been to before, has a small farm attached and this means registering as a farmer and paying all sorts of social security taxes. The new house is the oddest piece of architecture I've ever seen - the 'font' says it's a bit like a cajun house, whatever that might be.

Monday, 21 September 2009

The countdown begins .

Two very happy boyz greeted me at six this morning. To say that they are delighted to be back from the kennels would be an understatement of monumental proportions. They have been running around on the grass like six month old puppies enjoying their newly earned freedom - all this activity after all of 30 hours of incarceration I dread to think what they would have been like if we'd been gone for two weeks.Something must have gone wrong at the kennels this time, they usually seem to enjoy going, or at least take it in their stride. Last night,Wilf, who is very aware of his exalted top dog position in the pack, threw propriety to the wind and lay sound asleep curled up at my feet until it was time to turn in for the night - this was his way of letting us know that he wanted tlc - now ! If you're a PON there is nothing like the reassuring touch of the family to remind you that all is well with the world.
Having seen the new house, and loved it, ( much to the 'font's' delight) the countdown is now on for the move. We're aiming to have the legal work done, the furniture packed, and the boyz pet passports in order by mid-next month. It's becoming clear why moving house is so stressful.
We thought long and hard about where to move to. Having once worked at Stanford,San Francisco with its great restaurants and wonderful location would have ranked high on the list but getting a visa to retire to the US is a task that even Sisyphus would have baulked at.Canada would have been up there, lovely people, stunning landscapes but ruled out by winters that match those in Scotland and in the case of Vancouver are probably wetter and for Halifax even foggier. South Africa is arguably the most beautiful country we've ever seen but like Australia and New Zealand difficult to get to with the boyz - we don't really feel like having them in an aircraft hold for hours and hours.
That really meant that the choice was limited to Europe.More about the new house and its fenced garden tomorrow.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Back from the kennels.

The boyz are back from the kennels. From the unbridled enthusiasm with which we were greeted I can assume that they did not enjoy their time away. Even Digby,with his sore hip,managed to fly into the car, covering the 30 metres or so between the kennel door and the car door in one bound. The journey back was done to the accompaniment of happy PON howling - the two of them slept soundly for twelve hours without stirring once in the night.
We saw the new house - of which more tomorrow. The 'font' has seen it four times before but this tiny advantage didn't seem to help with the en route navigation. We were on the motorway from the airport heading south when I helpfully ventured to point out that we wanted to be going north. This fact did not deter the 'font' who lives by the mantra that it's getting there, not how you get there that matters.
On the return journey our flight was scheduled to depart at the crack of dawn so we opted to stay at the airport hotel. It had a good restaurant, and even better wine list. These factors compensated for the interior decor which looked as though it was designed by the same firm that does the stage sets for episodes of Star Trek. Why is it whenever I stay in an airport hotel there is always a group of Taiwanese tourists on the same corridor who depart,slamming their doors in the process at 3.51 am? Is sleep really possible in these places?
The hunters are back this morning blasting away 20 metres from our front door ( even though the law says a minimum of 150 meters) .Wilf has never recovered from hearing the gun shots in April and is lying curled up into a ball under the kitchen table. If ever I had doubts about moving they have been dispelled!

Friday, 18 September 2009

Off to the kennels.

This morning we're heading off together to see the new house. In addition to packing for ourselves, travel brings with it the logistical nightmare of getting the boyz ready to go into the kennels for a night . So far the day has been a whirl of activity with the 'font' packing and washing their bowls, measuring out food and trying to find their harnesses.Why we didn't do it all last night I'll never know.
We'll be back tomorrow with pictures of our new home.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

The prospective buyer.

A prospective buyer came to see the house yesterday so a mad rush tidying up and hiding things away in cupboards and drawers. Lots of flowers suddenly appeared courtesy of the 'font'. The boyz were told to be on their best behaviour and for once sat in the garden looking angelic - I couldn't believe how well behaved they were but it was probably helped by giving each of them a hide chew. As a result the showing seemed to pass of well. A call came from the agent last night with a very cheeky bid - which we refused. I know markets are weak but they're not that weak. We've told him to carry on showing the house and arranging viewings.
A huge thunderstorm at midnight with lots and lots of driving rain - exactly what's needed after the long dry summer. The trees are already looking fresh and invigorated this morning .Nothing can replicate the benefits and efficiency of a good rainstorm.
Off to the comune for a day of talking to the local bureaucrats and trying to make sure we're progressing with getting all the documents and permits in order. We still seem to be stuck in a parallel universe when discussing the original builders receipts for a two thousand year old piece of real estate. I'm allowing for a month from getting an offer to moving - the Italians all think this is a ridiculously truncated timeframe and suggest allowing three to four months. No way.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Doing the impossible - finding dog friendly hotels.

It took a full day working the phone and googling like crazy but finally I found hotels across Europe that would take the two boyz . Even more amazingly late last night, just as I'd started to despair, we spoke to someone who was willing to rent their house to us while the legal work is finalized - they love animals and the property has a fenced 2 acre field for the boyz to run wild in. Eureka! Even more amazingly it's only 20 minutes away from where we want to be. The number of people who wouldn't accept dogs in case they scratched the furniture or peed on the carpet,or worse,was quite dispiriting. I did my best to explain that the boyz were house trained and that we'd gladly pay for an damage but 90% of hotels and rental homes would have none of it.
There is a huge business opportunity for someone to write a guide to dog friendly hotels- the most popular European website for travellers with dogs simply lists every city centre Holiday Inn. No offence to the wonderful folks at Holiday Inn but the last thing I want to do with the two boyz is drive for six hours, navigate through lunatic driving to the centre of some unknown continental metropolis, park four blocs away,face a set of revolving doors leading onto a crowded lobby and then navigate to a 42nd floor room in a crowded elevator with Wilf and Digby in tow.After that scratched furniture or peeing on the lobby carpet would be the least of my worries.
The boyz, oblivious to all this activity on their behalf, are sprawled contentedly outside. For once Digby has managed to get the ball and is holding onto it determinedly between his front paws. Every five minutes or so Wilf lets out a half bark, half whine to let Digby know that it's time to let it go.
Apologies again for those of you who don't see their comments on the blog. For some reason I pressed the publish button and promptly everyhting disappeared into the ether.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Mary Queen of Scots and the mystery writing.

The execution of Mary Queen of Scots at Fotheringhay Castle on the morning of February 8th 1587 was a bungled affair. The first strike of the executioners axe missed the neck and bit deep into the back of her head,smashing the skull, but leaving her conscious. She was heard to whisper 'Sweet Jesus' in agony. The second blow was more succesful and a third finally sent her into the next world. Eyewitnesses say that when her severed head was picked up and shown to the crowd the lips continued to move for a further fifteen minutes . This was not the end of the gruesome spectacle as her auburn tresses came away in the executioners hands and the head , lips still moving, fell to the floor. The auburn hair was in fact a wig, and Mary's real hair was seen to be grey and close shaved. This sequence of events had quite an unnerving effect on the spectators who fell silent. Worse was to come for as they started to carry the body away from the execution block a small Skye terrier, Marys favourite, crawled out from under her petticoat where the Queen had been holding onto it throughout the ordeal - her last remaining comfort. The wee animal crouched beside the severed head of its mistress and howled piteously.
Why you may ask all this sudden talk of history? We brought with us from Scotland to Italy a portrait of Mary. This was painted from memory shortly after her execution. After centuries of hanging in rooms with open wood fires it was lustreless, covered in grime and in need of some careful restoration. In Todi there is the most marvellous picture restorer whose grandfather used to work for King Edward VII in London in the early part of the last century.Over the last three months he has been working slowly away on the old canvas revealing under the black patina the crucifix she carried on her way to the execution, the red petticoat she wore under her black dress,and the black veil that she wore on the block. Last night there was a telephone call - " Could we come immediately?".When we got there we found him in a state of high excitement. Beneath the funeral inscription at the top of the picture he had found an older inscription which had subsequently been painted over. Did we want him to reveal it or should he leave the more recent overpainting? The 'font' has asked him to see if he can get it x-rayed to see what it says before making a final decision - it could be the earlier inscription was a botched job and the more recent inscription nothing more than overpainting some spelling errors.
The two boyz are happily dozing in the morning sunshine in the courtyard sound asleep after a hearty walk in the country. Their hair is beginning to grow again and they are slowly but surely regaining their PON shagginess with each passing day,

Monday, 14 September 2009

An ever growing list

The logistical nightmare of selling a house in Italy and buying in another country,with another legal system,and another language had me wide awake at two in the morning - terror gripping at my heart. In the darkness of the small hours I mentally ran through a list of things that need to be done urgently. Thankfully sleep returned around about item three thousand four hundred and eleven. Why is moving so stressful and so time consuming?
This morning the 'font' is off for the weekly session of back torture in Orvieto leaving the two boyz and myself to fend for ourselves. On the to do list for this morning are:
1) Plan the quickest route by road to the new house
2) Choose and book comfortable 'dog friendly' hotels to stay at on the way
3) Rent a house for two weeks while the legal work on the purchase is completed
4) Find an English speaking lawyer
5) Push the agents in London to start showing the Italian house to potential buyers asap.
The boyz are blisfully unaware that their environment is about to change - a situation that will, with care, be maintained until the day of the move. This morning they were off up the hill sniffing the scent of wild boar and generally progressing with a purposeful air about them. Every so often Wilf would interrupt his ferreting to turn around to make sure I hadn't got lost or check to see I wasn't doing anything dangerous.
The rain that I've been expecting still hasn't arrived and the view from the pomegranate orchard towards Todi and the hills beyond was simply joyful. Although I'm brimming over with excitement (and trepidation) at the thought of finding new regions to explore,one thing is certain, we shall never find another house with views to match these here in Italy.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Trying it on.

Wilf has recovered from the trauma of his wasp sting. This morning he was charging around the garden playing with his little brother and showing no sign of distress. When he came indoors for breakfast it was a different story. He held out his paw and put on his best orphan dog look. Wilf clearly remembered that he got a mass of attention and two of his favourite wheat free treats when he'd done this routine the night before. PON's are inherently clever when it comes to soliciting for food and Wilf is undoubtedly one of the canine worlds great actors.
Both boyz are still in their summer skinhead haircuts and Digby is finding the mornings chilly. It gets up to the low 30's in the early afternoon but at daybreak the mercury is down in the low teens. After his morning exercise he retreats to his bed and plonks himself down, refusing to move until the sun comes round and warms up his limbs.
The removal firm came to quote for the packing and shipping yesterday. Although our adventure is still some time in the future I begin to feel that first sense of panic that comes when you realise how much still has to be done, how little time there is and how unprepared you are. This week I'm off travelling with the 'font' to see the new house for the first time. As we've already put down the deposit I would have been quite happy see it on the day we move in but the 'font' has made it quite clear that this is a joint choice and my input is mandatory - no discussion. The boyz will be going into the kennel for a night.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

The wasp sting

Back from Rome last night to be faced with a Friday night traffic snarl up of gargantuan proportions. The orbital motorway had tailbacks of 7 kilometers and the main north-south autroute was closed for forty five minutes due to an accident. What usually takes under two hours took four and a half. It was daft of me to book a return flight on a Friday - the pre-weekend en masse exodus from Rome being one of those immutable laws of nature.
Thankfully, rather than drive myself I had arranged to be met at the airport by young Simone with his Mercedes saloon of indeterminate age. He's a good driver, knows cars come equiped with indicators ( which in a most un-Italian way he sometimes uses ) and displays a relatively strict attitude to lane discipline. Most importantly his vehicle lacks the 3 inch high Padre Pio statue that sits proudly in the middle of the dashboard of the taxi firms other car.I don't wish to appear irreligious but this plastic representation deeply unnerves me. With its glowing, battery illuminated eyes it seems to look at me reproachfully whenever I travel under its stern and unwavering gaze. Its as if it can look deep into my innermost thoughts and see that I think that its not a real, Italian sourced, Padre Pio but a recycled, Guangzhu produced model of the hooded figure played by Sir Alec Guinness in the early Star War movies. Quite, quite alarming.
Late at night I found Wilf sitting at the front door looking very sorry for himself. He had trodden on a wasp. Much love was called for and a protracted washing of his foot with bicarbonate of soda in solution - ( a handy household tip of the 'fonts'). It seemed to do the trick. This morning he is fine although again quite nervous over the presence of the hunters who are wandering around the front of the house.