Tuesday, 28 April 2009


I knew life was too perfect.

The winter was nearly over. Spring flowers were bursting into bloom and the weather was just perfect for a good dose of gardening!

The spring cattle show in Camucia had been and gone! So had the poor gentle cows!

The local Co-op seem to have bought most of the poor things. It's enough to make me a vegetarian.

Strawberries were appearing in the shops.

The chickens were sitting on their eggs, watched by Lamu!!! Who, by the way found one nest in the bushes and ate all 14 eggs at one sitting. She did look a bit yellow for a while.

Salty's friends had come up to the olive groves for some spring grass.

The ducks joined them!


Dear Salty had been in the stable for five days after a muscle strain and our vet had asked me not to lunge him before riding because of the chance of him going mad and pulling the bad muscle again!!!!

Instead, I mounted a strung up, ball of muscle and rode him directly up to the outside school.

I don't remember much after that except being covered with sand and in agony lying on the ground. I could feel my feet and my hands moved which was a relief but I could not be seen from the stables.

Lamu was no help and lay as close as possible, whimpering. The horse came and stood over me clearly upset with himself and that left me looking for my mobile which was in my jacket in the Range Rover!!!

Luckily a young family were riding their ponies around the yard and one of them heard my cries.

Ambulance, bumps, hospital, X-rays, jabs, documents to release myself, promises to stay in bed for two weeks, more bumps, bed!!!

That was three weeks ago and I still feel rotten and the pain is only mildly better. I am bad tempered, depressed and getting fatter on a diet of bread, eggs, pasta, wine and no exercise.

My wonderful sister-in-law Diana, flew all the way from Canada to look after me and I can't thank her enough.

More moaning later.....


Monday, 27 April 2009


We spent three weeks in London over Xmas, 2008 and did all the usual THINGS. The Fair in Hyde Park is always fun but I don't understand why a German company has to ship so much equipment so far to amuse Londoners when we surely could provide our own entertainment!

So many people falling and ruining their Christmas's!! I saw two bad accidents in ten minutes and most people just hung on to the walls, scared to leave their safety zone.

Have you noticed how all of these 'amusements' are guaranteed to frighten!?

My feet stayed on terra firma!!

Aziz and I went to Cornwall to see how "Aunty Freda's Cottage", had survived the last five years of weekly lettings.

It looked just the same. A bit tired with a drain-pipe hanging off and a few window frames in need of a bit of paint but otherwise much loved and lived in!!

The garden was a mangle of rhodedendruns and weeds that only Cornwall and its rainfall can boast, but nothing too drastic.

We stayed at The Green Bank Hotel, in Falmouth looking over to the little village of Flushing. It brought back so many happy memories of sailing, riding and just growing up. The weather lived up to its name though and everything looked grey and windblown as it should mid-winter.

Back to Tuscany and the animals. Lamu was well and happy.

The cats fat and happy.

Salteno, now housed down the road at our local stables with Paulo and Hatti had returned home.

But my garden looked glum.

Just a few overwintering chard plants and a lot of weeds!

The snow soon came along to kill these off as well.

The ducks who when I left for London were little balls of yellow fluff had become fully grown, Hissing Sid and his four wives. They all nearly died of duck flu but luckily are still around and one is now sitting on fourteen eggs!! I wish someone had taken them away from her. Now I don't want to disappoint her.

Mimosa is always the first to brighten our dull pre spring days and this year the wind didn't destroy it.

Our crocus, daffodils and tulips have been better than ever. NOTE: Wild black iris.

Thankfully this winter we have had wet rather than cold weather and the wells and streams are full. If we are to have five months of hot dry weather all summer, we really need this break.

Sally and Briggie Freeman came out together for Easter and we all climbed on the train for Roma.

Nice hotel, The Gregorian,

next to The Hassler. Half the price and useful for The Hassler bar for pre-dinner drinks!! In fact one evening we didn't make it to dinner!! It was Sal's 70th and on hearing this news Luigi the barman for thirty years gave us such wonderful martinis and bits of lobster tails that we didn't feel like ploughing through three courses.

Briggie hadn't been to Rome and I think we packed five days sightseeing into three! Well, that's what my feet told me. Bit of shopping of course and some pleasant meals.

Sunday, 26 April 2009



We were friends for over six years but only at arms length. However, we relied on each other over six years in different ways.

From the first day of our meeting she annually brought her offspring for our approval. They were always a credit to her except one, who turned out to be a little daft. Skippy. So named because she jumped up and down on the spot for no apparent reason until she fell over!! We were never introduced to the fathers! We chucked bricks at them if they came yowling around the house late at night, or as my husband called the wood he hurled at them, Catalogs!!

She came to visit us when I was camping in a small cottage during building works on the main house. This temporary camp site lasted for nearly two years and daily she and any youngsters in her care at the time were duly at the cottage door for whatever we had to give them.

Skippy became a bore because as the builders left every evening, she tried to embalm herself within the house and once was missing for at least five days during one of Italy’s many festas. She was spotted one evening jumping up and down behind a window and was finally released only to jump around for five minutes, then fall over. She had left her mark inside the house, needless to say.

Our friend can only have been two or three years old when we first met but the incessant courting by the local Nasties, the Toms of the neighbourhood, would have taken years off anyone’s life. She looked downtrodden and weary of life!

One day I saw her running scared across the field in front of our kitchen windows and was horrified to see no less than fifteen males of varying colours and size following her. She always ended up a rag at the end of the mating season and finally we caught her and put paid to the lotharios fun.

She seemed to appreciate our kindness but would never enter the house or allow us more than one stroke every morning as her bowl was filled with breakfast. We never saw her after breakfast and once fed she disappeared into the countryside.

We have other cats but she was my friend and we shared memories of difficult times. If it is possible to love a cat, I loved this one.

I have been in London over Christmas and only been feeding her in the mornings for about a week on my return to the farm, and everything seemed okay in her little world.

Except. Last evening I heard a loud crying outside the back door which continued until I opened it. I invited her in. Again she refused but allowed me to collect her in my arms and stroke her. Something, that for the past six years she always declined. Her fur looked ill kempt and she cried from time to time.

I took her to the pig sty where there is warm hay, gave her food and water, locked the door against any other animal intent on aggression and waited to check on her later in the evening.

Before I went to bed I heard her crying at the back door once again and I will never know how she had escaped from that locked pigsty.

She let me pick her up again, cried once or twice, and then started to purr loudly as if happy!!! I wrapped her in one of my old jackets and did not lock her up this time but put her under cover in sight of the back door and went to bed.

This morning she was dead but had thanked me in the only way she could by coming to say goodbye!!!

How did she know she was going to die that night and why did she want to say thank you for the small kindness we had shown to her?

China Cat was special and she will be a bright light forever in my mind.

Friday, 30 January 2009


The Italian Bunch!!

Every morning I am met by this motley crew outside the kitchen door every morning. They are all starving. The dogs and cats have probably been up for at least three hours and would eat my handbag if I had it with me at this time of day!

During this time I have a tune running through my head that goes, ‘If they could see me now’, as dressed in a blue fleece dressing gown on top of which I have slung some old riding jacket, woolly hat and boots of varying descriptions, my smart friends in London would be horrified at this bizaar sight. It’s a bit breezy down below but at least I am warm and dry on top!

I blush to think of the times I have been caught out in this garb by total strangers who have let themselves in by crossing the stream and coming in the back way unannounced. Goodness knows what they think lives amongst them in the hills of Cortona, as they come across this apparition with mascara down to her chin!!! I don’t haunt houses, I haunt olive groves!!

First I feed the pushy cats and clean up the mess the wild animals have made during the night scavenging for any leftovers . There is usually a torn up a sack of precious potting compost they have mistaken for a sack of fish food or wild bird seed!!! They would eat my pampered cats if they weren’t tucked up somewhere hiding their heads under their paws and playing dead!

It’s usually raining at this time of the year so it’s a mad dash to the greenhouse followed by two filthy wet dogs thinking that instead of work, I am going for a long walk up in the hills.

On the way I inspect the advancing spears of the daffodils or the browning leaves of the over-wintering spinach or plan what needs doing by the gardener on Monday morning. Whatever I ask him to do will make no difference, he will do just as he pleases.

The ponies have heard my yelling by now and are yelling back. I have forgotten to throw them some tidbit or a chunk of hay. The little stallion will yell until I remember. He can wait.

I don’t quite know why they call my erection a greenhouse! It’s a poly-tunnel with a few mod cons like light and a little electric heater. It should be called, Heaven.

As a child I remember visiting my grandmother in her house on the Thames, just below Teddington Lock in London, where there was a proper green-house with a proper gardener who grew exotic things like orchids. I can remember the wonderful smell and beautiful colours that greeted me when I entered, and have never forgotten the magic of that little wonderland. Subconsciously, I think I have tried to recreate just this vision of Plumbago and Jasmine in my little plastic tunnel. The smell this morning was quite over-powering and although pouring outside, it was spring inside.

I don’t think any perfume house has ever reproduced a scent as beautiful as the natural scent of jasmine, or for that matter, many other flower perfumes.

The cats and dogs are usually shut out because I keep falling over them as I go about my planting deep in thought but if the rain is too heavy they come in and fight for the one dog bed. I have been known to hide in that same dog bed with them if unwanted visitors arrive when I am in haunting mode!!!

The inside of Heaven would probably resemble Hell to some of my tidier friends, but I know exactly where everything lives and among the bee equipment, the snakes winter quarters, the gheckos holes, the tools, plant pots, etc., I can usually find a pen to mark some new plant pots or a hammer to kill a bug!

Lots of little bags of seeds to plant at this time of the year. Some gathered from trips to foreign fields and some ordered on the net. Yesterday I opened a packet of cucumber seeds that I had paid two pounds for and it only contained four seeds!!! Can you believe they can get away with such daylight robbery? Note: Write rude letter to Thompson and Morgan.

By now there is usually an essential trip to the bushes! Not easy or comfortable when the bushes are dripping wet, the grass is sodden and there is little cover and one is being watched by four pairs of eyes wondering why the hell you are hiding behind a rock in the pouring rain!!

My eyes are streaming. Hankies wet with tears, must be allergic to something. Boring having just found my future amongst all things laden with pollen!!.

Ducks and chickens to let out. Little bantam sitting on five eggs, looking plumpy and pleased with herself. Herald, her husband on guard.

Laugh out loud as five ducks rush out with wings flapping to try a few exploratory take-offs! Most attempts end up in a pile of legs and white feathers akimbo, but when they do occasionally they get their fat bodies six inches off the ground they waddle back with a look complete elation. Or are they looking elevated?

Back to the greenhouse to write explicit biological names on tags for the newly-potted seeds and plants. “Hessi’s Triffids”, and “Plant Pinched from Garden in Perugia”! I will find the real names one day but not today I have too much to do.

Begin to wonder why my hands are shaking and promise to leave the second half of the wine bottle un-drunk at lunch time, only to realize I am on my second schooner of dark, black coffee. Try planting seeds the size of pin heads with shaking hands the size of shovels. Most end up on the floor.

Trickles of sweat drip down my back and I realize the sun has come up, the mist has disappeared from the woods and valleys and the sound of birdsong has been joined by the bells of Cortona announcing that it is mid-day. I have been wrapped in a world without worry for five hours and for the first time in weeks not thought about the credit crunch, only the safety of my summer’s harvest.
My grand-mother’s silver topped cane hangs in the corner of Heaven and her well traveled planter covered in gaudy oranges and lemons, probably bought on a trip to Amalfi in the thirties, sits on the bench.

They take note of me as I rescue the animals and make my way to my bath and a quiet Sunday afternoon in front of the fire.