Wednesday, 12 December 2007


It's always nice to arrive home except I don't know where HOME is anymore!

Our flat in London and my robinia tree looked just the same. Always the last to lose its' leaves and last to sprout in the spring. I arrived to fall back into a life of no cats, no dogs, no ponies, no watering of plants, no opening and closing of glass houses, etc. Just parking meter attendants, rubbish on the streets, no smiles and no interest from one's fellow men.

I did have a few interesting chats with taxi drivers but they are usually so depressing and anti everything that the only one I can remember is a guy who is planning a holiday near Venice with his wife, his mother-in-law and his six children, under canvas!!! He is driving there in his taxi with his eldest son because everyone else has said they couldn't stand being in an enclosed space listening to him trash Ken Livingstone for 48 hours!!!!

He did ask me if I would like to keep a toy boy!!! I didn't know whether to be flattered or shocked. Was he offering? He said definitely as his wife had let herself go and had not cooked the family a fresh meal in twenty-five years!!! Every day she goes to Marks and Spencer or McDonalds and buys take-aways for eight people. How much must she spend on food a week?

Sadly, he was not a Robert Redford lookalike so I offered to give his wife some cooking lessons instead!!

So they are flying ahead to put up the tents and he is following at taxi speed. I wonder if he turns on his clock? It would be interesting to see how much it would cost to take a taxi to Venice from central London!

Our local church, St. Peter's Eaton Square.

BUT, after about four days of wondering where my shadow in the shape of Lamu had gone, I began to worry about how the animals felt having suddenly had their team leader disappear into thin air. I missed my ping pong ponies so much I dreamed about them and I knew there were a million things I should be doing in the garden.

I made up for this by buying lots of gardening journals and then ordering everything necessary for a successful springtime in Tuscany!!!!

The bulbs will have flowered and the trees sprouted by the time they arrive here in Casa Loreto. What a shame. It really did feel like an addict being taken away from its root (!) source.

London looked much as I remembered it but wetter. Noah could have floated his Ark down the Thames and into surrounding flatlands to his hearts content. If they don't build a better Thames Barrier fairly shortly I really believe that the Houses of Parliament, the Palace, and what is more important, OUR FLAT, will be flooded within the next ten years. They were warning the east coast that the tides were at their highest, a strong wind was forecast NE/SW and that a lot of the coastal properties would be flooded. The barrier on the Thames was closed and many families were calling their insurance companies.

I wish I had taken a photograph of my bedroom ceiling. God knows I had the time. I could show you what I really did in London! Three days at the beginning of my stay out and about, ten days in bed and then three days at the end did not do justice to my plans for retail therapy and happy hours gossiping with my friends. I must have saved a lot of money though and that makes me happy. I can now buy some more animals!!!!

Maybe a few sheep. A house cow or two. Jerseys of course. I am reading an autobiography by my heroin Iris Origa and she mentions that her grand-parents at Westbrook, their house on Long Island always kept a small herd of Jerseys in 1909!!! The local cattle are not quite as dainty:

Our good friends the Rosenquists gave us a welcoming dinner party with all the Usual Suspects which was great fun. Old friends are the best because everything comes naturally. We all talk the same talk and don't have to fill in the blanks! Lazy I suppose.

I hardly saw any of my other friends, but did fit in a few good meals at Marks Club with the Lewintons, and Le Gavroche with David McAlpine and Angharad.

We had lunch with Christopher and Elaine Plummber at Zafferano. I gave an 86 birthday party for Norman Webb, Sally James, my son James and his girlfriend Lisa but missed dozens of others I had really planned to meet.

Feeling rotten I took the Gatwick Express to the airport and a private jet to Firenze!!! There can't have been more than ten people on the flight. Had just missed my train to Camucia so sat in the restaurant at Florence and was immediately surrounded by two women who announced they had slept the night on one of the platforms and didn't have any money to buy lunch! Of course I left lighter in pocket and wondering why they looked so neat and trim and WASHED. I saw them loading their trays with three courses and a bottle of wine as I made my escape.

My best private time on this trip is on the train from Florence to my local station. A half bottle of red wine, a baguette bought at Gatwick, watching the passing rivers and learning what to grow in my garden from observing the local back yards of the Italians. It is magic and the journey is always too short. I could take a private car from the airport to home but just think what I would miss.


And wondering how I am going to sell 800 bottles of superb olive oil.

Thursday, 29 November 2007


Under clear blue skies we started to pick our olives two weeks early this year. As I said in a previous blog, we had a wonderful display of flowers due to the hot spring and good pollination by our new bees, a great bounty of fruit but at the last minute we had two awful hail storms.

These storms are dreaded by the farmers just before the harvest begins as the hail knocks the fruit to the ground and leaves little pitting marks over those that manage to hang on.

We have two definite sides to our olive grove, and every year the harvest from each side differs quite considerably. You can imagine the arguments this causes between the pickers. One family pick the right hand side of the valley and another the left. This year the right hand side was weighed down with fruit while the left was sparse in places. What they all forget is that last year the position was reversed.

Lots of grumbling went on as each family keep half of the weight of olives they pick as their wages. The oil this brings to them and to their friends for the coming year is quite important and every last ounce is guarded vehemently.

I suppose this situation comes about because every other year we have to prune the trees and this cuts back on the number of branches able to bear fruit.

Sadly Simonetta, who is married to our gardener and belongs to one of the families who pick, had a recurring bout of her dreaded MS and for one week had hospital treatment for cortizone injections.

I was horrified when she turned up every afternoon, still with a stent in her arm straight from hospital, working until after dark up a tall ladder picking olives. When I remonstrated with her husband he just shrugged and said she was forte. (strong).

It has been a good year for oil and our little grove has produced about eight hundred bottles as our share. Not quite sure what I am going to do with it all but Rialto Foods in South Africa seem interested, my usual delicatessens in London still want to sell it and even Waitrose in Belgravia have said they will stock it next year.


I was struck down with my annual bout of bronchitis as soon as I caught a plane to London. Managed to see a lot of friends for the first few days but gradually went down hill and retired to my bed for two or three days. Nothing improved and I wasted a whole week of my return to London to shop for Xmas.

Still this is the first blog I have posted for months now, so I was quite pleased to have this respite to bring myself up to date.

We have sadly said goodbye to our little apartment in Antigua. The new buyer has taken nearly one whole year to sign and pay up!!! I had quite given up hope of ever seeing the colour of his money.

We will miss our two months of boat watching, tennis playing and warm Caribbean waters, but we are downsizing. All we have to do now is to sell our cottage in Cornwall and life will become much less complicated.

Monday, 29 October 2007


My blogging has been hampered for months now and I have really missed putting down my thoughts about our lives on our farm it Italy.

After the flooding we had so many wonderful friends coming from England to visit us that I really did not have the time to myself to gather my thoughts and then put them in my blog. Robyn, my Australian artist friend, has said I should just write two lines and add a few photographs and leave it at that. That is probably the route I should take but even that takes time and so for the time being I am going to have to be verbose!!

I have learned a lot this year about what to grow in the kitchen garden, when, and how many! Firstly we had a glut of zuccini and I made hundreds of bags of pulp which now fill up my deep freeze. If you buy six zucini plants and plant them at the same time, you deserve to have a glut!

Same with corn on the cob, fava beans, etc. etc. So next year everything is going to be different.

I have discovered that what one grows in the Shires, does not grow here! I wanted a herbaceous border just like my friends in England but that does not work here with our clay soil and long periods of drought. I am going semi-tropical and this should make for less work as well. Not so much weeding and clearing in the autumn. I haven't seen enough gardens in this part of the world to see how it is done, so next year I must get in the car and travel around all the famous gardens in our area.

From our large dining room windows we look up at the village of Cortona and a wonderful, ancient cemetery! While Aziz' sister Diana was here we went up to look around. I was so impressed that I am about to book myself a niche!! Well, it has a view over our property and I can keep an eye on the new owners and what they are doing to my little farm!!!

I will descend from the hills and haunt them if they do anything I disapprove of!!

I was thrilled with my first hive of bees and thought they had been doing wonderfully, coming and going full of pollen and buzzing around the kitchen garden with great energy. We finally opened them up only to find that half of them were dead. Killed by overheating. I kicked myself as I knew they fanned themselves and the honey when hot. When the guy who sold me the bees installed the hive he insisted it go where it is now and not where I had prepared a place in the shade. I knew would be cooler for them.

He won the battle and now we are without honey this year.

Hessi and I went off to a local horse show in Citta de Castello in the summer and saw a little pony being treated rather badly. I knew AC would be furious but I told this horrible, sleazy horse-coper that I wanted to buy the pony!

He is a little stallion called Socks and he has a wife called Knickers!

Luckily AC wasn't here so I quickly made the roll-over into a stable and the ponies, after several break-outs were installed, and we quickly post-and-railed the orchard.

They are delightful and answer in high pitched voices when I call and dash up for their piece of sugar. They are about the size of Lamu but she is terrified of them.

The local horse show with a competition for the best hat took place in Arezzo! I think Ascot could teach the locals a thing or two!!!

AC, Mimi and David McFarlane built the coffee table for our new Drawing Room beneath the wisteria.

AC has been travelling a lot this autumn and was away when I went to the local Foianno Show. It was a delight with all the streets of the village full of people doing what they have been doing for centuries.

Making pasta, tending cattle and sheep

producing wine, digging for truffles, picking porcini, etc.

Jani, her daughter Kara, and Louis gave me lunch and we wandered for a blissfully interesting afternoon. Stupidly I had taken Lamu with me and she wanted to eat everything on four legs that crossed her path. I gave up and took her home after she had attacked a black, pot bellied pig that I am sure would have come out on top if he had just honked at her!!!

All teeth and temptation but no backbone.

AC has gone off to New York to talk to his new company bosses, WPP and a few of their clients, and as usual seems very laid back. I don't know how he gets so much self-confidence, but he has, so that stops me worrying about him. Hopefully he will tell me if he needs me to go with him!!!! Oh, Ha Ha.

It is the most beautiful autumn I have ever seen anywhere. I would really rather live in the Shires in England but to keep the Old Man happy I agreed to live here. Gradually I am beginn ing to realise that our climate here in Italy is so much warmer and dryer than England that I should stop worrying about leaving my home country and enjoy my new life. Every day starts with sunshine or by lunchtime the sun has fought its way through the fog.

Autumn is the time for bulb planting and that is what I have been doing. In fact I had ordered double the amount of daffodils I needed and have had to borrow a small digging machine in order to plant them!!! The ground was so hard we could not get our spades in. Clay is worse than concrete when the water is extracted.

It hasn't been a great year for fruit but I did manage to make some quince jelly between feeding the guests!

Two of my quince trees have been killed by the wild boars who dig up the roots. They must have a better taste than the trees in the woods. Also the drought has not helped. We did have some apples and pears but they were all so small they were hardly worth bottling. The walnuts and almonds however, have been wonderful and there will be lots to munch over Christmas!

Saturday, 1 September 2007



I have been at the farm for most of this year and as the months passed the drought became worse.

We have suffered (!) month long temperatures of 42 degrees from May until now. We have watched in horror as the poor folk in England and Wales have been battered by rain- storms and an almost continuous blanket of cloud . How can weather patterns be so diametrically different when England and Italy are only separated by a two hour flight?

Shouts of Alps, surrounded by sea, Mediterranean, etc. echo in my ears.

The ground had become unworkable as the clay became harder than concrete as the summer progressed. All my wonderful flowers had given up the ghost long ago, the fruit trees bore the smallest harvest I have seen and the olive trees although covered in fruit desperately needed rain to swell the oil content.

The wild boar have been launching regular evening raiding sortes to eat everything that contained something juicy to eat or drink. Branches have been torn off my apple trees seven feet off the ground. The fig trees have been similarly assaulted and reduced to half their size.

We have been hearing rifle shots from all the local farmers late at night as they try to defend their precious grape harvest, even though they can be heavily fined for shooting pigs before the 1st September. Electric fences have shot up everywhere and the dogs bark all night trying to scare them off.

AC gave me a night vision binocular for my birthday and we have spent many evenings watching the pigs move down the valley on the hunt. Every morning they have done more damage to the orchard. Next year I am going to have to fence it and when necessary back it up with electricity.

Well, that was yesterday!!! Today the rains came down as if trying to make up for lost time.

We have AC’s parents and sister from Canada staying for a couple of weeks and if I hadn’t found some just-caught mussels in the Coop this morning, we were going up to Cortona for lunch. Thank God we didn’t.

Half way through lunch the sky darkened and the heavens opened for a good three hours of the worst rain we have seen in five years. It bucketed down aided and abetted by a spectacular display of thunder and lightning. At one point we thought the house had been struck as the crash above our house even frightened me, and I love a good storm.

AC went out with his umbrella in the middle of the worst of it to check on the swimming pool and returned ashen faced. He had been outside when the big bang happened with forked lightning and he said the whole world lit up and he smelled burning!! For a moment he thought he had been struck and looked about himself to see if anything was singed! Idiot for going out at all.

If we had gone to Cortona for lunch we would still be there. Mother in law is not too nifty on her pins and neither is Dad in law, so we would have still been sitting getting drunk four hours later. Cortona stands on an almost vertical hill and I couldn’t imagine them sprinting for the car in the market square in a monsoon.

Two days ago Felice our gardener was working in the stream getting me some good leaf-mould for the greenhouse and heard a scratching noise behind him. On investigation he found a large dolce-granchio (fresh water crab) emerging from under a stone. Lamu and I joined him and found a few more which we put into the lago to keep the crayfish company! In a year or so they will make a fabulous crayfish and crab pasta!!!! We just need some trout and we will be almost completely self-sufficient. He certainly would not be standing in the same place today! The water would be above his head height.

The river bed before the storm

Well, that’s when I have bought a Jersey cow over from England for milk, put a couple of pigs in Porkie’s Palace for bacon, bought a few dozen chickens for eggs, and a hutch full of rabbits.

When I say this to AC he says, “You will find me in Eaton Place when you need me!”

I digress. We were talking about working in the dry river bed. Well, look at it now.

The poor dozen goldfish I put in a deep pool, the only one left with about an inch of water in it, must be swimming in the Arno by now!

The lake has overflowed and Lamu caught this crayfish about five hundred yards away making its escape southwards in the middle of the olive grove!!! It’s now back with the granchio in the lake. You can’t let your lunch run away just like that.

Of course, the lights have gone out. As soon as we have a wind of more than thirty miles per hour or a bit of rain, Italy disappears into blackout mode. I am sitting typing this with the aid of several night lights at the kitchen table. My battery will also conk out in a minute.

It’s an ill wind, or storm for that matter, that blows nobody some good!

The parents have gone up the hill to their cottage with a plate of sandwiches and several candles for an early night and I can go to bed without having to cook another meal!!!

Tomorrow I hope the sun will be shining because Arezzo has its two day antique market that takes over the whole town, and a jousting display, and we all want to go.

Oh dear, perhaps not. We have just discovered that the kitchen is under water. Our dear plumber who is suing us for non payment of his final bill, has forgotten to block up the holes he drilled in the back wall for several pipes to exit. It is not the only idiot thing he forgot, so that makes me even more resolute in my stand against paying him.

The water has brought with it several inches of nasty yellow mud and this will take at least the weekend to clear up.

It must have been a very ill wind!!

Sunday, 12 August 2007


On my last visit to London some friends asked us for lunch in Petworth. I asked what an old green dress of Lillis' was doing standing like a scarecrow in the middle of one of their flower beds!

After lunch David took us to see a new sculpture in green marble they had bought a week previously at a wonderful gallery not far from their house. They were just testing various positions where it might stand to the best effect

Of course, not to be outdone, I bought one of Paul Vanstone's fabulous sculptures for AC's birthday and Christmas presents!!! (That will be for the next ten years I suspect), and here it is standing in all its glory at the end of the swimming pool.

Paul came out to install it on his way to Carrera to collect a consignment of new marble and we had a hilarious two days with him. AC was away and it was all a surprise for him when he got back. Never will he know the labour of love the installation took.

Now the Boar in the orto will have someone to talk to. Maybe not!!!!

In a future blog I will tell the whole story of Paul's visit. Very funny in retrospect! Not at the time.


Isn't this a pretty flower?

I saw it growing in a pond in Antigua and on our return to Italy I stuffed one small plant into an empty tennis ball tube.

Now we have them growing on the lake and in these planters from the reclamation yard. If anybody would like some, just shout.

You may have to bring them in to over winter.

By the way, does anyone know its real name?


Glads aren't really my favourite flower but this year they have been wonderful.

This bunch came as a free gift from a bulb company when I placed an order last autumn. I stuck the bulbs in the ground not expecting to see a flower. This wonderful array of colour was the result.

Bring on the freebies!



Four years of rebuilding the farm and four months of drought and then a deluge of guests and rain arrive. Then some dreaded hail to damage the olive crop and flood the kitchen. “ It never rains but……

The friends have arrived to see for themselves why we have been absent from London for the past four years and seem mildly impressed but more so with the sunshine after the awful weather they have suffered in England this year.

Firstly, Terry and Felicity arrived. He a big AdMan who loves corn on the cob. I had been beating off any hungry looking locals who looked longingly at my crop in order to impress my American visitor who can devour at least thirty cobs at one sitting. (I think he is from the deep South)! He duly accepted the challenge for two days and I was congratulating myself on having got my timing to perfection. At breakfast on the morning we were leaving on our trip to Positano, I noticed his brand new bottom set of crowns looked decidedly tatty! I asked when his final trip to the dentist was planned and with a less than perfect grin, he said it was all finished!!!

I was unsure where to go next when trying to tell him that I would ask for my money back if I were he! He had spent thousands on his new set of gnashers and the bottom set in my opinion did not live up to the “ping” of the adverts.

I left him in the dark and waited for the yell of pain which I felt was inevitable during his morning ablutions. It came half an hour later followed by his wife’s laughter and various scatological jokes about the best way to recover his highly prized, shiny bottom (!) set of teeth.

The trip to Positano was uneventful except AC insisted on showing Toothless’ wife the whole of the Amalfi coast which added at least another three hours of driving to the end of at least five. Big Addy sat silently in the back pondering his molars with the odd “Goddammit” as I narrowly missed the ninety-third large bus on an impossible corner.

The Sirenuse Hotel was a welcome sight and the Range Rover was whisked away, not to be seen again, and certainly not missed for at least a week. Eight hours dicing with Italian drivers on the Amalfi coast must be up amongst the top most dangerous sports!!! And I mean sport to the locals. They spot a ‘stranieri’ and vie with each other as to who can turn the intruder’s hair white in the quickest possible time. This sport is not only undertaken by the men, the women are far worse and reminded me of “The Bicycle Man” in Nice who used to rush up to cars headon on the edge of the water, only to stop just short of their bumpers, jam on his brakes and rear up his bike while he viewed the collapsed driver behind his wheel suffering from a heart attack. I believe he only fell into the water doing this about ten times over a forty year career.

Felicity and I were desperate to hit the linen shops of Positano. Clothes that is, not bed. Everything we did to lose the men had no effect so we took out a boat for an evening cruise. We found a great Captain who during the winter months drives a tanker in the Caribbean!!! Wonderful, rugged rocks dropping beneath the waves from hundreds of feet in the air. Little windy roads with dinky toy cars dashing in one side of the hill and ant-like, reappearing the other side. When you are driving on them they feel quite substantial but viewed from a boat hundreds of feet below, they look suicidal clinging to the rocks. Man and his achievements is awesome when you see nothing daunts him when progress beckons.

We swam off the boat in crystal clear, warm turquoise water and counted our blessings.

I asked our Captain about the hill fires that were raging on certain stretches of the mountainside and he laughed when I suggested the odd cigarette might have started them. “That”, he said, “Is big business!” Everything in Italy is ‘business’.

If a fire starts then someone has to be paid to put it out! Then someone else has to be paid recompense by the authorities, and another someone has to replant with trees and bushes! Gives everyone something to do once the holiday makers have gone home. Makes sense really!

Nice day spent in Capri, a place none of us had been to before. Next year we decided we would spend our time there instead of Positano. Positano is good for the leg muscles but there are too many pairs of legs being exercised on the charming streets. Apparently, in Capri once the ferries have all left if you aren’t staying in a villa or a hotel, everyone has gone home and the island is peaceful so you can shop to your hearts content with people like Elton John and a few Royals!!!!

Hot day spent in Pompeii with a fascinating guide who brought the whole horror to life! Apparently there are still forty to fifty thousand people living on the mountainside beneath Vesuvius – and it’s SMOKING! I think I would re-locate!!!

Holiday over and just leaving the winding roads at Sorrento when some idiot stopped in front of me and on applying the brakes, nothing happened! Big heart-stopping moment saved only by a quick pumping. “Goddammits” flying everywhere and we still had five more hours of driving! Made it but would not do that drive again for all the good breaks in the world. The garage tells us the ABS had gone, whatever that might be, and that it will cost six thousand euros to replace. I liked the look of Victoria Beckham’s new drop-head Bentley in Hello Magazine last week!! Perhaps that would be more reliable. AC says I am as common as she. Especially as I admired her initials on the white head-rests and the hub caps!!!

Second lot of guests arrive and so does the cooking! Nobody seems to want to go out when they stay with us. Wonderful laughter though and because the drought was still holding, good tans all round.

Second disaster after a trip to Cortona where sit in the main square and laugh at all the stranieri, little realizing they are all laughing at us at the same time. I had taken the girls in the Range Rover and because we couldn’t all fit in, AC took Mike in my little black Fiat 500. Had a good laugh at WPP's newly appointed designer and Mike a 'Big Banker' struggling to get into the smallest car in the world not realizing that disaster lay ahead.

We had bought several different flavours of ice cream and Mike was in a hurry to get them into the deep freeze! They had beaten us down the hill and as we turned the last corner leading up to our gates the little car was a blazing inferno! The farmer who lives next door was directing a very small hose of water onto the blazing engine and no sign of AC and Mike!!!

Panic for a few seconds when AC reappeared from the farmhouse where he had been ringing the fire station but still no Mike. I dashed for the door of the Fiat to switch off the ignition and let out some smoke and then rescue what I imagined was an unconscious Mike. We had spent thousands of pounds having the interior spruced up with pale cream leather and I did not want it ruined!!!

Mike finally appeared having dashed to our farm to get a fire extinquisher only to find he couldn’t get into the house. He said he spent some time trying to find somewhere in the shade to hide the boxes of ice cream!!!!!

The final horror became apparent when we discovered that in Italy insurance does not mean the same thing. It means you insure the other guys car, not your own.