Thursday, 20 February 2014

DEAR VICTORIA

You asked for a daily blog as I have fallen by the wayside on my monthly reportage, so if ennui sets in during the reading of the next two weeks sojourn in London, TOUGH!

As I hate flying and as Aziz says, my nervous energy rises at least three days before I leave either of my Nidos, I have panicked all of this morning, cleared our leaking Cave of all my rubbish clothing and covered all of AC's with plastic ready for the builders who say they will make it leak-proof whilst I am away!

MAYBE!  I will believe it when I don't see the damp.

Photo

Cleared my hats apart from the one that might get me upgraded!  Finished my gym workout by eight in the morning which is normally the time I am preparing my first cup of coffee in bed, run to the stables to see my Italian Stallion, changed his rug, given him sugar and carrots, driven in huge hurry to Cortona to pay any outstanding accounts, visit my hair-doer, bank, etc.

Hat photo

Paid bills, most shops closed so no retail therapy possible, went to get hair done for entry into London looking less like a farmer and discovered I was one hour late!! 

Bugger!

Two and half hours to wait, so guess where I am!  Whether or not I will get home is another matter!  I like the red more than the white!!!

Home by three, go find the grave they dug for PhanTom (1) yesterday, pack, panic a little more, curse the BBC for moving their satellite stopping me from watching the Winter Olympics, watch Lamu leave with Hessi for two weeks, killing me with sadness as her eyes tell me I have abandoned her to an eternal life of misery, again.

Stalk the property with a whiskey and water and a fag, neither of which I have touched for months, check the greenhouse and my already sprouting seeds, give the ponies some sugar, talk to the doves, pull a weed or two, answer some emails, go to bed and worry for ten hours until the taxi arrives.

Well, you asked for it.  You said daily reports would be more ....  I forget the word.

Photo phantom

(1). PhanTom

NĂºmero uno feline.  (Came and went in the night)!

He adopted us, but obviously had a first home.  Came initially to steal our cat's food but we fell in love and he came ever after until yesterday.  He developed a terrible cancer on his nose which we operated on once but after it had returned I knew his days were numbered.  He hadn't eaten for four days, couldn't walk and was coughing so I called the vet to say I didn't want him to be outside for two weeks whilst I was in London and would she please put him to sleep.

Her eyes told me I was murdering him.   Silly girl.  I loved him and was doing what I would want someone to do for me when I have a great growth on my nose, can't walk, etc., etc.

Pollo grille arrive!

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

CORTONA IN THE MISTS

CORTONA IN THE MISTS

I was going to write a nice long, newsy blog but Dashboard have changed all their systems since my last teach-in.  This picture has taken me over half an hour to retrieve and add!!!

If I live long enough I think this will be just a photo-blog, I will not have time to compose anything.

We have lost a few notable people this week.

Mandela.   I have nothing to add to what the Good and the Great have had to say this week except that he gave me faith that perhaps human nature was not as bad as it seems to be when one listens to the media.   What I wonder is, if nature can fashion one such unimpeachable human being, why on earth are there not more of them around.

Perhaps there are and they just don't get their chance in history to make their mark.   But, a lot of them seem to try, and here I speak mainly of our politicians, and they fail dismally.   Why.   Greed for power and wealth I suppose.

Perhaps they will take note and try to emulate.   As for Cameron, Obama and the Danish Prime Minister taking Selfies, enough said.   Would have loved a C.U. of Mugabi during Obama's speech.   What a cheek even turning up.   


PONIES IN THE MIST

We also lost one of our best English actors when Peter O'Toole died last Saturday.   

Who hasn't watched Lawrence of Arabia and wondered at his beauty?   I didn't know him well but met him on numerous occasions with Sian his wife, usually at the home of Jack Hawkins and Dee.  The time I remember most vividly was on driving to our country cottage in Hampshire after a hard weeks work in London to find our drive filled with grand chauffeur driven cars, an Iso Bifo Batserini, a fancy Ferrari type sports car belonging to Jeremy Lloyd, and a lot of noise.

It was the perfect summer evening, full of atmosphere, blackbirds singing, the smell of summer Phlox and an unmistakeable hint of alcohol in the air.

Jack was working on Goodbye Mr. Chips in a boys school, Sherborne in Dorset with Peter, Jeremy Lloyd and another handful of great actors and they had been hijacked by Jack to finish up the week having a drink at the cottage on their way back to London!

I walked in on a picture of eight highly inebriated men all howling with laughter, wine bottles on every surface.   I became the butt of this humour as soon as I entered the fray.   I was young, not totally at ease with these quick thinking jokesters and immediately probably showed how inappropriate I thought their behaviour was.   What would the locals think?  You could hear them a mile away.

I only had to look up the drive to find out.   The whole village had come out to watch as soon as the news spread that Peter O'Toole was in town.   

I think he won an Oscar Nomination for Mr. Chips.   He was nominated six or seven times but never won.   He asked the nomination committee not give him a Lifetime Award until he was ninety because he wanted to try to win an Oscar fair and square.   He should have had seven by the time he died.

His performance on stage in Jeffrey Barnard Is Unwell is never to be forgotten.   Never has anyone played drunk for that long on a heavily raked stage, clutching a lit cigarette without crashing into the orchestra pit.   He spoke continuously for three hours and never forgot one word of his lines.   His performance was probably not all acting if the truth was known!   Wonderful but life-threatening.

He was as beautiful in real life as he was on screen and one of the best and funniest raconteurs one could ever meet.   He and Richard Harris would put to shame any comedian today.   

Until ten that night in Binley one after the other of these thesps took it in turn to tell stories and if I had that evening on tape it would be worth a million today.   I just wish I could remember one tale to tell.   I do know that I was furious when he said he had peed in the kitchen sink because he couldn't find the loo!!!!

Every time I used that sink for ever after I thought of Peter!!!

PRETTY BUTTERFLIES, UGLY CHILDREN!

COULDN'T FIND A CABBAGE WHITE


I THOUGHT I COULD EAT A LOT!


CABBAGE WHITE EGGS

Eggs no longer.   The caterpillars have eaten all of my winter greens!!!

AFTERNOON SUNBATHING


I also lost two of my precious baby doves to the blasted cats that roam the countryside here.   Nobody has their farm cats neutered here and therefore we are overrun with very hungry wild animals who would take your hand off for a bit of second hand pasta!   Mum Dove had spent three weeks diligently bringing up twins and the first time they flew to the ground to explore the outside of their rather smelly shelter, they were breakfast.   

Funnily, I found an egg kicked out of one of the nest boxes and lying on the floor this morning.   It must have been frozen jelly and I really do not understand why they are still laying at Xmas time.   Perhaps Mum was so disgusted after her last effort that she decided children were not worth the effort.   

I thought birds only laid one or two clutches in the spring time.   These doves have produced nest after nest of young, most of which have been eaten by cats.   I am going to find a way of keeping them healthy until they can fly.   Their home is high-rise and if you cannot fly off the ground again when you come of age, you are dead meat.  
  
Cats beware.   I am after you.    Give me a dog any day.   


OR PREFERABLY, A HORSE!

I am also after the heron who visits every morning before I am awake and enjoys breakfasting on one or two fat goldfish in the lago.   I have trained Lamu to chase him off even before she has had a comfort break!!


My kitchen garden is finally being upgraded but no pictures to publish of flowers.   Except one of my pines has suddenly burst into flower.   I thought they grew in hot climes.   Here it is 4C or 5 below at night at the moment.   Strange.


DON'T KNOW ITS NAME


PICS OF THE YEAR:

I SEE NO SHIPS

BET THEY CAN'T SEE ME?

Am going to bed now, this has taken me hours!



Beautiful sunset.


Friday, 6 December 2013

SWALLOWS & AMAZONS!




WRITTEN IN THE SUMMER BUT NEVER TO BE FORGOTTEN!






Amongst my early morning listening I caught an article on BBC 4 which was an article on the world-wide disappearance of insects, butterflies and moths necessary to fertilize our crops in the fields and gardens.

Bees are dying of varroa, insecticides kill wild bumblebees, moths, hover flies, ladybirds and a myriad of others I would not even recognize, nor would a large number of the green conservationists.

I have suffered severely from the loss of bees from my beehives not only in Cornwall but here in Tuscany and on trying to refill my colony this year have been told that my friend has just lost 65 hives full of bees. Not all through infestation of mites but the length and low temperatures of our past winter.

So no bees this year (2010), well not in my hives.

Our spring has been no better than our winter and in June by now we would expect uninterrupted sunshine. Instead we have two or three days of sweltering heat, upon which we switch on all cooling possible within the house and then three days of cold when all fires are lit again!

Today, on walking up the driveway I was stopped in my tracks beneath the lime trees by the sound of bees and a myriad of other insects sucking the lime flowers dry of pollen and nectar. This is not a sound, it is a loud noise! Something one would not expect from something so small but multiplied by one hundred thousand, is really quite loud.
I stood and examined our hungry visitors. The list, if I had known half of their names, would have filled a foolscap page. Insects of every size, colour, and uglieness were filling their tummies with food either for themselves or their young. Butterflies covered the trees, proboscis rampant! Probably moths will join their throng at dusk, together with the fire-flies. So here in Italy, apparently the farmers will have their crops pollinated this year.

In England, only common sense tells us that as more and more hedgerows are grubbed out and more herbicides are used, then more of our wildlife will suffer. Nobody, least of all the government seem to care. They will when it is too late and even then they will blame somebody else.

Insects have more than their fair share of predators as well as mankind and this was proven by one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. Something I will remember when I lie on my couch preparing myself to meet my Maker.

Following my walk beneath the lime trees to mow the olive terraces, mulling over the extraordinary amount of wild life non extant in our area of farmland in Italy, I climbed onto my tractor.
Out of a clear blue sky I was hit by an avalanche of fifty black javelins giving an aerobatic display that could be described as showing off.

My tractor was surrounded, dive-bombed, hassled, skimmed, frightened, stopped, startled, its safety endangered, by a black cloud of the most beautiful, chattering, streamlined blue-black spitfires.

Something I was doing by cutting the long grass had signaled a mid day feast to these heavenly creatures and that, together with teaching their newly flying young how to hunt had led to a feeding frenzy of extraordinary proportions.
I had not taken my camera, I was not expecting anything unusual to happen.  When I found it it was an impossible sight to catch on film. They were just too fast.

The birds would come hand in hand in a straight line, five abreast towards the tractor and at the last moment having caught whatever the tractor was putting up, peel off on either side to feed again. I swear one or two were so close they were taking a fly off my nose.
They made hand-break turns, barrel rolls and gave a display that could only be beaten by one of their own kind.

The Red Arrows had nothing on them.   Totally Brilliant!

Bottling Tomatoes


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IS IT WORTH THE AGGRAVATION TO GROW YOUR OWN?

When we moved to Italy I had thought one of the major pluses would be to grow our own vegetables and to know that they were completely clear of any of the ugly sprays that are supposed to kill us.
We built one of the more impressive vegetable gardens in our neck of the woods and have for the past five years tried to be as self-sufficient as possible.

PIC OF VEG GARDEN.

The first year was a disaster as the soil we had dug into was once an olive grove, and was bed-rock. It took three or four years of compost heaps, bought in cow-dung, every bit of fibrous material we could muster to even garner five inches of top soil.

That said we had a fairly good response from our plants last year and I began to believe I could live through the winter months on our own frozen green vegetables, soups made from carrots and parsnips, raspberries melded into ice cream and puddings, apples bottled, pears pureed, and peas to rival Birdseye!
 
Since those early years of my building the heaven in my mind of frozen vegetables,  I have come to the conclusion that after the cost of buying the seeds, most of which become too hot in the greenhouse and die, those that aren’t planted in the correct month die, and a million other reasons why ones little seeds do not sprout, I then turned to the local nursery and bought their small plants. 

That said I thought it might amuse to share the complications of just one method of saving the feast of one’s own tomatoes!!!!

Every time I plant the seedlings I hear my dear mother’s voice saying, “All bought tomatoes taste of nothing but mud”, but only recently have realized that this today is not true. Our supermarket sells wonderful fruit year round that tastes of the real thing.

So why do I go on growing them?
 
Well it has to be for the fun of bottling the remains of a summers’ planting, pruning, pricking, and training etc., of the little red, roundly annoying fruit, doesn't it?

PIC OF FIRST DISASTER OF BOTTLING TOMATOES.

Summer visitors have now left and have barely eaten an eighth of our crop so out comes the tomato puree machine and I set to work to bottle their remains.
 
Not being a local and not really knowing what I should be doing, the first batch after processing in my new plastic machine I bottled and left over night as I was going out for dinner. The following morning I picked up a bottle to check that the top was firmly shut.   I had not had time to put all the bottles into boiling water to seal them and as I tested the lid it exploded and pebble-dashed the whole kitchen in a fetching orangey-pink lumpy colour.
The extreme noise alerted our daily and the look of horror on her face as she came upon the scene was good enough for a cartoon. I was covered from head to foot in a bloody pastiche of a murder and every single wall and flat surface heaved with a bubbling mass of red vegetable.

We were both frozen to the spot for a good minute before we dared move and start the clean up.
 

She advised I should chuck the whole lot out but as it had taken me the best part of a morning to produce four bottles of pulp I was damned if I was going to give the whole lot to the chickens.
After boiling, rebottling, and boiling again I think the day was saved.

PICTURE OF FELICE CLEANING UP BOTTLES OUTSIDE.

My second attempt was just as dramatic. My new plastic machine for machinating was about as efficient of my salami slicer! In my opinion nothing that has moving parts and is made of plastic is any good and the bits that should attach and stay attached, do not.
 
Ten minutes into reducing half a ton of what was left of my crop, the machine bunged up, the nozzle shot off, the machine did a back flip and the kitchen had a second coat of tomato paint!!!

PIC OF MACHINE.

Having cleaned up for a second time which took longer than growing the entire crop I decided that it would probably be much less trouble to go to the Co-op and buy a dozen tins of chopped tomatoes.
I wonder if anyone could tell the difference when mixed with onions, herbs, etc., and poured over a pasta and covered with cheese?

I think not, but I will continue with my Tuscan adventure even if it kills me, which may be on the cards at this rate of experience.

A WILDLIFE YEAR AT CASA LORETO. 2010.


TRAULING FOR FRUIT
The new addition to the pony family has grown exponentially and has already learned all her parents bad habits.

As I type from the kitchen table I see SKIPPY is breaking down the bank between one terrace of olive trees to the lower by sliding down at a full gallop having baited her Babo (DAD in Italy!), to follow in order to chastise her or just join in the fun. Only a few weeks ago she was gingerly taking her first steps on uneven surfaces.

At this time of the year they are either in their stable out of the way of flesh-eating flies or trauling for fruit! This starts in the spring by standing beneath the cherry trees with their mouths wide open and progresses through the arrival of plums (two colours), apples, apricots, pears, peaches, with a rather more than a few figs (two colours), thrown in.
 
Actually, sucked in!!!

When Skippy was born I asked the vet if her parents were too fat and he said they looked ‘fully formed’ but okay and would probably loose weight as the sun burned the grass. 

He did look askance at the almost extinct box of apples donated by the greengrocer that stood outside their field and said they should only be allowed two each per day in order to guarantee against laminitus, a painful affliction most Thelwell ponies suffer in later life.

Little chance of this as their campo is dotted with all of the above fruit trees. What they need is a bit more exercise, apart from sex.

More of this later but am preparing to buy Mum and Dad a little pony cart in order to get around. All in the interests of low carbon emission of course!!

OTHER GUESTS
From our position below Cortona with its wonderful skyline and our vista across the valley between ourselves and Mount Amiata, I suppose the most memorable times in the summer are in the early sunset hours.
 
To sit either up at the pool or outside the house and watch the hills turn pink could make your gin curdle with its beauty. To watch the evening news is almost too painful realizing how lucky one is and how little we care about our fellow man.

I have nothing to say here about this but it pains me every day worrying about ‘Man’s inhumanity to Man’! Even watching an animal programe called Animal Precinct can so depress me now about Man’s inhumanity to Animals or to Anything that I tend to play Solitaire or Backgammon on my Ipad rather than turn the set on.

One is ambushed from all sides and made to face the total annihilation of the world. I have just experienced the wonderment of my first grandchild and already this is another thing to not only enjoy but to ponder what the world will represent when he is my age, or long before, possibly when he is in his early teens.

THE BIRDS AND THE BEES!


My early morning listening on BBC 4 had an article on the world-wide disappearance of insects butterflies and moths necessary to fertilize our crops in the fields and gardens.

Bees dying of varroa, insecticides killing wild bumblebees, moths, hover flies, ladybirds and a myriad others I would not even recognize, nor would a large number of the green conservationists.

I have suffered severely from the loss of bees from my hives, not only in Cornwall but here in Tuscany and on trying to refill my colony this year have been told that my supplier has just lost 65 hives from the bee mite. Not all through infestation of mites but the length and low temperatures of our past winter.

So no bees, or so I thought this year, well not for me anyway.

Our spring has been no better than our winter and in June by now we would expect uninterrupted sunshine. Instead we have two or three days of sweltering heat, upon which we switch on all cooling effects possible within the house and then three days of cold when all fires are lit!

Today, on my way to my Ferrari tractor walking up the driveway I was stopped in my tracks beneath the lime trees by the sound of bees and a myriad of other insects sucking the lime flowers dry of pollen and nectar. This is not a sound, it is a loud noise. Something one would not expect from something so small but multiplied by one hundred thousand, is really quite overpowering.

I stood and examined our hungry visitors. The list, if I had known half of their names, would have filled a foolscap page. Insects of every size, colour and uglieness were filling their tummies with food either for themselves or their young. Butterflies covered the trees, proboscis rampant! Probably moths will join their throng at dusk, together with the fire-flies. So here in Italy, no problem.

In England, only common sense tells us that as more and more hedgerows go and extra herbicides are used, then more wild insects are going to suffer. When will somebody do something in the government to stop this idiocy?

Insects have more than their fair share of predators which was proven by one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. Something I will remember when I lie on my couch preparing myself to meet my Maker.

Following my walk beneath the lime trees to mow the olive terrace to the side of the house mulling over the extraordinary amount of wild life non extant in our area of farmland in Italy, I began mowing.

Out of a clear blue sky I was hit by an avalanche of fifty black javelins giving an aerobatic display that would be described as showing off.

My tractor was surrounded, dive-bombed, hassled, skimmed, frightened, stopped, startled, its safety endangered, by a black cloud of the most beautiful, chattering, streamlined blue-black spitfires.

Something I was doing when cutting the long grass had signaled a mid day feast to these heavenly creatures and that, together with teaching their newly flying young how to hunt had led to a feeding frenzy of extraordinary proportions.

I had not taken my camera as I was not expecting anything unusual to happen to me but when I did get it I found it an impossible sight to catch on film. They were just too fast.

The birds would come hand in hand in a straight line, five abreast towards the tractor and at the last moment having caught whatever the tractor was scaring, peel off on either side to feed again. I swear one or two were so close they were taking a fly off my nose. 

They made hand-break turns, barrel rolls and a display that could only be beaten by one of their own kind.  Nothing mankind could make could come close to the brilliance of their flight.

It confused but delighted me.

MY LAST BLOG WAS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE POSTED. SORRY.

I LOVE MY HORSE IS A POTTED HISTORY I AM WRITING FOR MY GRANDCHILD'S BOOK.

I DID NOT MEAN TO BORE YOU ALL WITH MY EARLY CHILDHOOD.

ALSO THE LAST THREE OR FOUR POSTS I FOUND ON MY BLOG WHICH WERE UNPUBLISHED.  SO I PUBLISHED THEM REALLY FOR MYSELF.

EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED IN THE BLOGGING WORLD AND I HAVE TO LEARN HOW TO USE IT AGAIN.

COMPLICATO!

JEAN