Sunday, 5 August 2018

COUNTRY LIFE ARTICLE-(Not Sent)

CASA LORETO BOCENA 398 SAN MARTINO CORTONA AREZZO 52044
+39 0575 612683


Dear Ed, (The Editor of Country Life in England).


I eagerly await my weekly copy of COUNTRY LIFE here in Tuscany and smile at your articles and readers letters about their attempts to save wild life from the onward march of civilisation!
Having been brought up on a farm in Cornwall and then living for forty odd years in central London, we decided fourteen years ago to find somewhere less noisy and polluted. My husband wanted a flat in Portofino but we ended up with an olive farm in central Tuscany! Something to do with my argument about not living with people around me but animals instead.
He has never let me forget his wants as I grumble about the complexities of a life in a foreign country, running a thousand olive trees, large orchard, lake, horses, dogs, chickens, doves, ducks and a pair of Emperor geese!


Add to that the fact that Italian men do not like taking instructions from a female of the species, thinking they are only good for one thing and that at seventy this woman is not even useful for that pastime! Also the difficulty of learning a completely new language when one had failed O level French fifty five years ago, plus the fact that men here do not like to keep appointments and when they do turn up they do not feel a need to apologise for their tardiness. Especially as you know that it will take another five visits before they fix what they had originally been invited to mend in the first place!


Take it from me, it could fill a book but that has already been done, several times, and made into films and still they haven’t really shown Italy as it is living here and trying to stay sane on a day to day basis. You have top live here and been baptised by fire to truly understand.
Having said all that, I wouldn’t have changed the last years for all the boat trips in Portofino with film stars for the world.


What really makes me smile about your letters page is the wonderful, kind hearted people who diligently try to save wild life from humans who seem to be trying to kill off the planet. Here, I am trying to save the humans from the wildlife!!


Let me start with the pigs. Our property is way off the beaten track edging onto the forest which is where the cingali or wild boar live. Before we had any electric fences or gardens to speak of, we would think their visitations every evening of families of up to thirty pigs rootling around in the orchard was sort of wonderful. Now that we have rescued acres of wild ground, built kitchen gardens, etc., we think of them as a wretched nuisance and they have cost us thousands of pounds over the years building barricades to keep the buggers out! The big ones are wary now but the little ones in striped jumpers, squeeze underneath any electrified wire and dig around to their hearts content especially around the irrigated shrubs and lawns.

The hunters do kill them off in the winter but another solution has been found by the Commune, our local government. They have introduced wolves. I haven’t seen or heard one yet but a couple of years ago the local bar proudly pinned a dodgy photograph of a large wolf-like animal to the bar wall and we have been waiting for more hard evidence of their whereabouts ever since.

Now the stories are legion. One neighbour’s donkey foaled in her field quite close to the house in the nighttime and by morning just four baby hooves were found scattered around. A taxi driver’s wife kept half a dozen sheep in a paddock close to our town of Cortona. They were all killed. She replaced them and they were again killed and half eaten.
The thinking behind introducing wolves is that they will predate on the wild boar and give the farmers a break from the mayhem the pigs make of their fields. They may have just introduced another, more costly nightmare for the locals.

Added to this, we had a very nervous making clue that they were in our midst when our friend up the hill walking her elderly labrador one morning was stopped in her tracks by a growling and bristling of hair from her dog who was glaring at something up ahead. Three wolves, equally aggressively barred their way in the middle of the track. She hasn’t walked in the woods since!
Next, the deer. Well, everyone knows what deer do. They just eat everything, and kill poor young boys riding to work on their mopeds early in the morning by leaping over roads unexpectedly. So sad for both rider and deer.

Next, the porcupines!!! Big, black and bristling.
We are in the middle of a drought at the moment and all of nature’s creatures are descending from the hills in search of water. Of course a nicely irrigated farm with green lawns and a kitchen garden full of plump, ripening produce is a natural draw for any hungry animal.

I have caught a couple of porcupines in the past who have been causing trouble, and have taken them on a scenic drive to another desirable part of the countryside, but now we have a rogue monster who will not be deterred.

First he waited until my corn on the cob was just ready for eating and he pounced the day before I did. Mayhem! He didn’t even finish each cob but went for as many as he could ruin in one night. How did he get over the wall into the garden. Did you know that porcupines live up trees, or at least can climb as well as any cat? Well, we didn’t until my husband found videos on Utube to that effect.
We had also been told that they shoot their quills at any chasing dog or human. They don’t. They run ahead and then stop dead in front of the following assailant which then runs into the back of its prey and bingo, a pincushion!

When he returned he decimated the peas. Then the tomatoes the following night. For breakfast he ate my water melons and dug up my prize irises and ate them as a sweet. They love irises and I knew this so kept them in the walled garden for safety. They must be able to smell out the tubers.

He’s not too keen on potatoes. Too mundane. He likes something with a bit of sugar in it. Who doesn’t.

He has avoided all of my traps which have been baited with goodies and just shimmies in and out at will. He does leave me a few quills every night for my hats and when I go back to our flat in London I will take them to Philip Treacey for use in his millinery for the fine ladies of Belgravia.

The hunters do kill them off in the winter but another solution has been found by the Commune, our local government. They have introduced wolves. I haven’t seen or heard one yet but a couple of years ago the local bar proudly pinned a dodgy photograph of a large wolf-like animal to the bar wall and we have been waiting for more hard evidence of their whereabouts ever since.

Now the stories are legion. One neighbour’s donkey foaled in her field quite close to the house in the nighttime and by morning just four baby hooves were found scattered around. A taxi driver’s wife kept half a dozen sheep in a paddock close to our town of Cortona. They were all killed. She replaced them and they were again killed and half eaten.

The thinking behind introducing wolves is that they will predate on the wild boar and give the farmers a break from the mayhem the pigs make of their fields. They may have just introduced another, more costly nightmare for the locals.

Added to this, we had a very nervous making clue that they were in our midst when our friend up the hill walking her elderly labrador one morning was stopped in her tracks by a growling and bristling of hair from her dog who was glaring at something up ahead. Three wolves, equally aggressively barred their way in the middle of the track. She hasn’t walked in the woods since!

Next, the deer. Well, everyone knows what deer do. They just eat everything, and kill poor young boys riding to work on their mopeds early in the morning by leaping over roads unexpectedly. So sad for both rider and deer.

Next, the porcupines!!! Big, black and bristling.

We are in the middle of a drought at the moment and all of nature’s creatures are descending from the hills in search of water. Of course a nicely irrigated farm with green lawns and a kitchen garden full of plump, ripening produce is a natural draw for any hungry animal.

I have caught a couple of porcupines in the past who have been causing trouble, and have taken them on a scenic drive to another desirable part of the countryside, but now we have a rogue monster who will not be deterred.

First he waited until my corn on the cob was just ready for eating and he pounced the day before I did. Mayhem! He didn’t even finish each cob but went for as many as he could ruin in one night. How did he get over the wall into the garden. Did you know that porcupines live up trees, or at least can climb as well as any cat? Well, we didn’t until my husband found videos on Utube to that effect.
We had also been told that they shoot their quills at any chasing dog or human. They don’t. They run ahead and then stop dead in front of the following assailant which then runs into the back of its prey and bingo, a pincushion!


When he returned he decimated the peas. Then the tomatoes the following night. For breakfast he ate my water melons and dug up my prize irises and ate them as a sweet. They love irises and I knew this so kept them in the walled garden for safety. They must be able to smell out the tubers.
He’s not too keen on potatoes. Too mundane. He likes something with a bit of sugar in it. Who doesn’t.
He has avoided all of my traps which have been baited with goodies and just shimmies in and out at will. He does leave me a few quills every night for my hats and when I go back to our flat in London I will take them to Philip Treacey for use in his millinery for the fine ladies of Belgravia.

Next the raptors!!! They have taken all of my doves. Returning from London a few weeks ago I couldn’t think what was missing. A silent dove house, normally humming with life and a joy to behold as ten white doves dove in and out feeding their young or sitting on eggs. Now it stands silent and empty. Ghostly almost. The gardener said he thought that falcons had been visiting whilst the house was empty. I immediately visited the market the following week and bought a new pair of sparkling white birds and put them in a holding pen until I could introduce them to their new loft. The next morning was a scene of utter ghastliness. Three birds with their heads bitten off. Not eaten, just killed for the sake of killing. I suppose the guilty animal was a stoat or weasel. The empty house remains empty as I see a family of falcons visiting daily for breakfast.

I discovered they had also taken two baby chickens from the hen compound and two wonderful little Mandarin ducklings just three weeks old from the lake.

That will teach me to leave my animals to fend for themselves.

Frogs are the next pest we have. You notice that as I relive all this carnage that the local wildlife are now described as pests!!!

Frogs are protected the world over but these noisy amphibians have blighted our lives for five months of the year ever since we arrived.

I remember saying to the Swiss lady who sold us the property as we walked around, Oh good, you have frogs, remembering my youth of fishing around for frogspawn in our stream in Cornwall. I wondered why she gave me a sideways glance of horror.

When we finally moved in and prepared for sleep a slow croak became a cacophony of raucous mating cries which continued for the rest of the night. And the next night, and for fourteen years thereafter. It is impossible to sleep with windows open and we wouldn’t mind if the croaking was pleasant on the ears, but this is a downright ugly, rasping sound. Finger nails on blackboards type of sound. Spine chilling.

I won’t tell what we do to lighten our load as we would probably be prosecuted!!! Humans fight back against nature.

Did I mention the Rooks. Actually, probably Crows because there are a lot of them suddenly in our neck of the woods.

“If it’s a crow on it’s own, it’s a rook.

If its a rook with friends, they are crows”.

Every one of our mosquito nets covering the windows both in the house and in the cottage have been ripped to shreds by crows attacking their mirror images in the window panes. The woodpeckers have taken care of the wooden window surrounds so to cut it short, we need new windows and new mosquito nets!!!

The crows also have an upsetting, discordant cry. They are almost worse than the frogs.

Am I beginning to sound like a witch with grudge against nature?

Not for a minute am I against nature, I just wish it would give us humans a chance to live and breathe on their planet without such a grudge against us.

There a many nice animals and birds here but that is for another day. However, as I gathered the duck eggs this morning I happened to stand admiring the lake and out of nowhere flew a dagger of turquoise feathers. This little missile flew headfirst into the water and out again clasping a little piece of silver in its beak which it proceeded to bash the living daylights out of on the back of a bench.

He did this twice and his colourful image is still copied into my brain as I think of him.

By the way, have I mentioned the ants, snakes, mosquitoes, wild, farm bred cats, rats, et al? Well, okay I will stop here.

Jean Fraser-Cami 20th July, 2017 Cortona.
Photographs to be added.

FLY ME TO THE MOON!

"Did you have a good flight",  I heard my husband ask from the safety of his earthbound flat in London as I arrived back home in Italy.

I had promised myself that I wouldn’t whine yet again about my travails in the air but this one had taken the biscuit.

Talking of biscuits, I think she must have downed at least two family-sized packets!

I hate flying, and I hate flying even more when traveling alone. I need my husband’s arm to bury my nails into every time the driver goes over a bump and the thought that if I am going down then he won’t be left with nobody to grumble about.

The flight began to fill up and having found my aisle seat I see a woman mountain struggling up the aisle knocking unsuspecting passengers right and left back into their seats never to rise again. Before I could say oh heavens I pity the poor people she is going to overflow onto, she turns in my direction.

She is with an Italian mobster who takes up his position at the window and then she proceeds to squash herself between the two arm rests. An engineer will have to be called to straighten them later.

I meanwhile am standing waiting to retake my seat and then to start a lengthy game of “hunt the seatbelt”. You may have guessed where I found it. But after a great deal of effort up close and intimate with a perfect stranger!

In the meantime a couple and four kids under the eight sit in both rows directly behind us. Father opens his laptop and from there on he doesn’t look up but tells his wife to tell the kids to stop throwing their toys at each other and not to draw with felt tipped pens on the fuselage. Wifey takes no notice as she is deep into her glossies and the kids run riot.

My hungry traveling companion has by this time finished her first packet and the crumbs are gathering. The kids start their kicking games and Mobster is woken from his slumber and quietly threatens the rug rats behind him. I wait until it becomes painful and tell their father to do something. Without a beat he tells his Hermes eencrusted wife to tell the children to stop jumping on the seats and put down the laser pen.

Laredo then asks Mobster could get out to pee. Of course he could but why didn’t he go before we left the airport. We are only half an hour into our journey.

We do the seatbelt shuffle again when she returns and instead of going to the window seat and buckling up she plumps !! For the middle again. I quietly wonder how obstreperous is going to get in. You guessed of course.

During the whole flight this woman fished in her vast handbag firstly to seruptitiosly scoff a bag of toffees, next a packet of biscuits and in between to retrieve umpteen wet wipes to mop herself from head to toe. She leaked from every orifice! She cleaned her face, under her armpits, up and and down and places I couldn’t bare to imagine.

I thought it odd but she was very nice in the face of my indifference and bad tempered grunts and constantly apologised for disturbing me. I pretended to be reading and hardly acknowledged her except when I had to stick my hand up her bum to retrieve my safety belt.

The kicking continued and I thought Mobster was going to invade Iran he was so mad and I added my hate of all kids under the age of twenty and we settled down again.

This time Laredo wanted to get something out of the overhead locker. I guessed what it was as I had seen her personal spoon and fork in her handbag!! Tupperware for two is all I have to add.

Once consumed they then both announced a further trip up front!! I kid you not.

She came back, strapped herself in and told me to sit down ad he would be some time!!

More apologies and before I could stop my mouth from working I asked why she hadn’t booked an aisle seat!

She burst into tears. 

It turned out she was an editor on our major newspaper in England and was on her honeymoon!

I felt lower than a snake!

Thursday, 22 March 2018

BEWARE GIFTS IN SHEEPS CLOTHING!


LONDON.   MARCH, 18.

A WHITE ELEPHANT!




HURRAH FOR MICKEY!


As I took my very expensive Rolex watch to the menders for the umpteenth time yesterday, I was reminded of the two Maharajahs and their elephant.

These two vastly wealthy gentlemen had a long running grudge against each other until one day one of them thought of a way of settling the argument for good.

In India a white elephant is a sign of good luck and is empowered with super elephantine powers.   If it dies then the owner will have nothing but plague and pestilence for ever.

The Clever Maharajah bought such an animal and presented it to his enemy as an offering in an outward sign of bringing peace and tranquility and an end to all their hostilities.

The big white beast was duly marched into his enemies' stables and the Grateful Maharajah covered it with jewels, expensive livery and it was treated with much pomp and circumstance.

The elephant duly became sick and to ensure it lived the Grateful Maharajah spent all his money on keeping this animal alive fully realising that if it died then his empire was lost.

It did indeed die after a long and expensive illness.

The Clever Maharajah was jubilant.   His enemy was crippled and hence the saying, "It's just a white elephant".   Beautiful to look at but not much use!

Well, that is slightly how I now regard my Rolex watch!!

Since receiving it I have spent many hundreds of pounds trying to keep it ticking.   It has been back to the factory via Rolex at least twice, been to Switzerland via Italy several times, and now back in London it has been to a watch maker for the third time and every time I have paid a bill of over two hundred pounds.   Sometimes, seven hundred pounds.

A thousand pounds when it lost one of its diamonds!!!

I love my watch but am beginning to think of it as a White Elephant.   I am now wearing a Mickey Mouse watch as my expensive watch has gone to the menders.



AGAIN!!!


$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$


SPRING IS HERE - BACK TO THE FARM TODAY. 18.3.18


Well, it's nearly here!   In fact we had another night of snow.   We are wondering if City Airport will be open for our flight at two o'clock.


It takes me about two hours to pack and prepare for leaving the flat and as I turn out the refrigerator I am always reminded of an old friend of ours, Doug Hayward.

Doug died a couple of years ago and is still sadly missed by his myriad of friends who often laughed with him and occasionally about him.   Doug bless him was a little careful with his pennies a failing I was to run into both when I worked for him and as a friend observing him!

If I used the telephone for a personal call in the shop he would tell me to put my money in the box.   If I used one of the office stamps for a personal card he would put out his hand for payment.   He did it without a hint of a smile and after the first occasion when I refused and he sulked for the rest of the afternoon, I always preempted his outstretched hand and paid up without a word.    I did point out that I had worked all afternoon and that he hadn't paid me a penny.   He knew I loved him and it was honour to help and to be at the centre of the fascinating crowd who congregated at his shop.

Doug was The Tailor to the Stars and held court in his shop in Mount Street.   If I was ever bored or wanted to just get out of the flat I would go and help him with his customers, most of whom I knew anyway.   Anyone who was anyone and was in London would drop in on Doug to have a suit measured or just to hear the latest jokes from the football loving tailor.   Doug was very funny and if one was lucky enough to drop in when Michael Caine, Roger Moore, or any one of the film stars who loved him, the laughter lifted the roof, especially if they had moved over to Scotts for a little light refreshment half way through.

Ralph Lauren had his suits made by Doug, in fact asked Doug to make a pattern for a mans suit that he could sell under his own name, which Doug duly did and thousands were sold around the world.  Doug made all the suits for the Bond films and a good percentage of all formal clothes worn by every actor making movies in England.

One day I dropped in to say hello and there was George Hamilton who had obviously had a big win at the tables the night before.   His pockets were jammed with large denominator notes and cheques worth up to a million!   Doug closed the shop, we walked to BMW in Park Lane and George bought TWO top of the range motor cars cash down and after four celebratory gin martinis in The Dorchester,  I was so drunk and so tired through helpless laughter that I bailed out and took a taxi home.   The two of them were the funniest men alive.  And George, the brownest!



George topping up his tan!!!


Doug hailed from the East End and had an endless store of very funny jokes and because he cheered everyone up if they were in town for a movie, the first stop had to be in Mount Street.   From politicians, movie stars and even famous heads of Footsie Companies they hung around Doug just for the pure joy he brought to their lives.

Doug lived above his tailoring business during the week and at weekends he drove to his little cottage  at Henley on Thames.   I have mentioned that he was careful with his pennies so every weekend a bootful of uneaten vitals went with him.   I was friendly with his girlfriend Fanny, and one day she told me that he even takes a half eaten sandwich with him, and his potatoes and cheese have done more miles than the Cornish Express!

This morning as I pack up my fridge I realise that I have caught the same mean disease as I was packing up all the uneaten food and taking it back to Italy.   

AC knows what I am doing and every time he passes the kitchen door he says sarcastically that I have to pay any overweight myself!!


THIS WILL FEED US FOR A WEEK AND I CAN'T BUY CHEDDAR CHEESE IN TUSCANY!!!

The moral of this story is a sad one.

Doug grew up in the East End during the post war years and through pure talent and hard work made himself into a star tailor but he never forgot how it felt to be poor.

He saved every penny and when some of his chums bet him he couldn't lose the weight that threatened to give him a heart attack, he fixed his mind on the huge cheque he was going to win and promptly went on a diet.   

He was so successful that he became unrecognisable and later died because of complications due to lack of food!!!

RIP DOUG.  

I need to go on a diet but I don't have the strength of character to go that far.






Sunday, 11 March 2018

THREE WEEKS IN LONDON



We just made it out of Cortona by the skin of our teeth before The Beast From The East arrived!!
(Finland just call it Wednesday)!!

But we never have been prepared for snow in this country.  Half the fun is grumbling about the inconvenience.


Snow had been forecast for the days ahead but nobody expected temperatures of minus 14C!   London almost came to a standstill and life proved to be quite difficult as we had a raft of appointments set up for the days ahead. 

I will never forget a trip to the doctors in a wool coat which is normally just a ten minute walk to Sloane Street which turned into being akin to an expedition to the North Pole.   I arrived at my destination and asked to take off my boots in case I ruined their new carpets.   As I sat in the waiting room I slowly became aware that I was not only cold but that I was getting colder!   The heater in the corner was blowing freezing air at the patients.

Everyone's boilers burst, the main water pipes under the pavements were gushing thousands of gallons of water onto the roads and freezing instantly.   We had freezing rain and very soon the country ground to a halt.   The television told stories of people sleeping in their cars for up to twenty four hours with even helicopters were unable to help as the traffic jams were miles long.   Some good hearted local farmers were helping out and taking blankets and hot drinks to the stranded drivers but I couldn't imagine sitting in a freezing car for that length of time without petrol or heating!

Our boiler did hang in there but started making extraordinary noises in the night and the flat took about ten days to heat up after a long stretch of being empty even though the heating had been on for a week before our arrival.

I don't remember a colder spell in London.   As someone said to me, "Putin and his damned country never send us anything pleasant!"

My white camellias in the little garden in front of the house were just beginning to open and have now turned a nasty shade of brown.   Ditto everything else with any bodily feelings!























All the snow has now disappeared and we are left with very dirty roads and pavements.   Photos from Italy show that they faired somewhat less harshly but a couple of days ago they had a horrendous hail storm which has damaged the main road outside the gate and will have knocked seven bells of hell out of any blossom that had the temerity to appear.   No almonds or apricots this year!!!




We have seen James and Jude a couple of times for lunch and although we are all very sad about James and Lisa's divorce the little boy appeared to be in good spirits and had grown about a foot in height.   We ate a lot of chocolate in lieu of Easter and Shelley Anne, and Annie Cleland joined us.  The rest of the party were either stuck in Scotland unable to fly due to the snow, or unable to stand up on the snow covered pavements.

IT'S AND ILL WIND!

The kids who have never seen snow in this country have had a ball.


Putin has sent us another sign that he is stalking us!   For months now his jets have been flying over British territory and Russian ships have been using the English Channel.   Now he is sending bunches of flowers laced with Sarin nerve gas to kill off his ex-spies and their relations.   They are even boasting about it on Russian television.

The sleepy southern town of Salisbury has been turned upside down by the suspected gassing of Sergei Skripal and his daughter during or after a lunch they had a few days ago.   The news is full of highly trained nerve gas specialists in amazing protective clothing and breathing apparatus and the policeman who went to their assistance who gave them CPR is now on the danger list in hospital.

My father hated the Russians and was always predicting the end of western civilisation during the Cold War years.   We had a lot of tin mines on our property in Cornwall and I distinctly remember him often telling our mother that she ought to be storing tinned food in them to assist our survival when the Russians finally arrived!   I think he was only half joking.

Lunch yesterday in Beckenham with Aziz' parents.   They are nearly ninety years of age but still have more vigour and verve than a couple half their age.   Long may it last.







Today we are taking our friend and partner of Mike Wilson for lunch.   Mike died last week and will be sorely missed by his many friends.

Sophie lives a few doors down in Eaton Place and will need all the help she deserves to mitigate the loss of her partner of twenty years.

MOTHER'S DAY.   And I still miss her!

My card from James.   Quite beautiful and will last a lot longer than a bunch of flowers.





As seen on a trip to The Brompton Heart Hospital the other day!!!   When I arrived two young nurses stood brazenly beneath this sign openly smoking.   I didn't want to get into a fight so when I came out and they had gone I thought it worth a photograph!

One more week to go and then back to Italy and my kitchen garden.   Spring is around the corner and I have bought hundreds of packets of seeds.   Goodness knows who is going to eat all the produce but it's such fun I cannot resist the urge.


























Tuesday, 27 February 2018

XMAS 2013 - TUSCANY

We spent our second Xmas in succession at the farm and had a wonderful holiday.

Sally came to join us for ten days and the tree she had designed in silver and white looked wonderful

GLADIOLI!

Spring