Yup, it’s definitely winter. . . brrr

There comes a time in the winter here that reminds me I’m not so far from England. It’s cold. Not Sweden cold, but cold. We’re due -4 next week. Handily though our place seems to be in a micro climate of its own. Villa-Franca, just down the road, seems to always be 5 degrees colder. Apparently it’s something to do with the river. On my drive down there yesterday my car thermometer neatly told me that it was 0 degrees as I left home and a parky -5 as I arrived in V-F. Nonetheless, it’s cold enough up here and we are munching through the painstakingly bespoke firewood at an alarming rate.

Tomorrow night Carnivale kicks off, let’s hope that can warm us all up a bit!

Late Christmas update

Christmas is over. The chain-saw was put to rest so the local church goers had some peace and I was able to give the back a well earned rest!

Thankfully due to the enhancements of satellite T.V. and the fact my Italian squad La Spezia are just down the road there were plenty of mini interruptions over the festive period. This ensured that the whole period is not spent sleeping in front of the log fire.  Ana not being a huge football fan was not looking forward to being dragged to matches but in the festive lead up I proved myself not safe to sit on the sofa. Turns out smoking a Partigas Series D4 (cigar for those uninitiated into this oldmanish/suave habit) whilst snoozing on the sofa has only one outcome- burnt stuff.

On the subject of football, apart from noting that my favourite team Newcastle lost to the Arsenal, Tottenham and the Mackems again there appears to be a strange craze going on in the Premier League haircut department. It’s been noted in the world at large that H5N1 can be passed from birds to humans but what is a new and more scary outbreak is the transfer of Premier League haircuts to my mates in the back garden!


Other scary news has been witnessed in Bruno’s house. Sadly he is having a period of living on his own but there is a limit as to what an 81 year old farmer should be doing. On a recent visit I caught him red handed with the hoover in one of his shovel sized paws! He told me that he felt quite at home with the new piece of technology, that’s new to him and not new in reference to the hoover which was quite clearly one of the first models to be released. I wasn’t completely convinced that the harmony would last; day 2 and a return visit saw my Mike Tyson-esque neighbour standing over his museum piece in tatters. Apparently, something had fallen off and he launched the remainder out of the dining room window onto the terrace. The antique has breathed its last. I’m glad, it was keeping him from the cellar!

Finally, on the decoration front, I think we were at risk of having planes landing in the back garden over the Christmas period. Ana, age 30 but somewhere closer to 5 during the Christmas, has with the help of additional power from our friends at Enel turned downstairs into every childs Christmas light dream! Be it flashing, twinkling, glittering or shimmering we have them all.

For those mad enough to follow us thank you. Hope you had a great Christmas and that 2015 brings you everything you want… except a Premier League hair-cut.

Closer to Winter update – Working with a broken back

Some of the readers have met my partner Ana and would openly admit that without her things including my life would be at best, different. The house appears to run itself but that quite clearly isn’t the case.  She gracefully glides around fixing, mending, preparing, cleaning, planting, harvesting and all of that prior to serving a cold-beer and preparing some extravaganza for dinner.

There are of course those moments when she tip toes back to her home town for a short stay with her folks. SZJ62 has hardly left the runway when the chaos begins and stays that way until a burst of energy comes over me as I note Bucharest Airport announce the departure of the return flight bound for Pisa.

The last time however was a tad different. The departure goes well and the boys are happy to see me in the local but then arrives the strike the day after. My back finally gives up after another day of chopping in the woods and my ability to walk makes Bruno (81) look like a sprightly 20 year old!

So at least if I can’t walk I can always drive and accept the invite to one of my friends houses whose mother always takes pity on me when Ana is away. Eating 5 courses of home prepared Italian food and sampling the latest Grappa means that for a day or so the kitchen remains as Ana left it. I am advised to take a hot bath on my return home and proceed to the physiotherapist the next day. The bath is run and after 20 minutes I manage to undress. Being placed on the planet as a bloke that equates to using all available floor space which when you’re on your own is fine. I have a beer placed in one corner of the bath and the mobile in the other. The beer is obviously for medicinal purposes and the phone just in case I can’t get out! Halfway into the water and it strikes me that if I can’t get back out then I will need to call an ambulance. That means others seeing the state I have left the place in!

Clearing the bathroom, getting to my friends house, eating for Italia, sampling his latest Grappa with an anti inflammatory left me somewhat tired and I manage to catch some sleep or pass out, I’m not sure which. I decide again as a bloke that there’s no need to rush to the physiotherapist and thankfully as its Friday it would be best not to disturb her until Monday. Sadly Monday comes and whilst I knew Annalisa before at the bar I know her a lot better now. I had never realized previously that a bad back could have absolutely nothing to do with your back!

Fixed up and ready to go again, I have the burst of energy as news of the departure of Ana’s plane streams over the internet. The gliding begins once again and the mad Englishman takes to chopping trees. Its late afternoon when I hear the whistle from the house to tell me it’s time to down tools and head to the house for the cold beer…..the view on the way back suggests that maybe I could at some point take away the “mad” tag….

Dave View

Almost Winter Update: December 12th

The winter veg went in some time ago and apart from daily slug patrol and the odd escapee chicken things are going in the right direction…up and out! We’ve got broccoli, fennel, cabbage, winter lettuce, kale and Brussels sprouts (especially for my son Jimmy). September was beautiful and for parts of October and November a 5 minute post lunch break has been spent sitting in the sun. This has all helped alongside the inevitable periods of rain.

The vines that weren’t so happy due to the mildew had some small snorting visitors at the beginning of October and were seen off almost entirely. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, the wild boars are not my friends. Drinking wine is also beginning to look like something you do when you have Lay and Wheeler around the corner.

Sadly this time I can’t even blame them on Bruno. His cannon did not last long. The initial phase lead to the wildlife using my back garden as an oasis in the desert and on returning to his they soon realised that it was a cannon-less cannon. He told me over a recent drink (not made by either one of us) that the cannon was up for sale. No small relief to us!

One triumph of the autumn however, has been the bees! Stefano finally made it over to have a look and with the last burst of warmth the bees made some honey! We got around 5 kilos in jars and the rest on the frames as due to my inexperience I failed to notice it crystallising so it can’t be extracted in the normal manner. In fact the truth is I failed to notice on my previous visit that they had made any! I have since learnt that honey made from ivy pollen crystallises super fast so needs to be extracted almost as the bees arrive back at the hive. I’ve made a note for next year. The positive however is that we scoop the honey from the frames on our dining room table onto bread, cheese or whatever else…

September! Where has the summer gone?!

Summer has been crazy busy and beautiful, hence my pause in blogging. There has been so much to do in the garden along with welcoming fantastic guests to the house. From reading the kind notes left behind and emails post departure, many of them would like to come back! Post rental period I have sat and pondered why? Is it for the lovely views, fresh air and welcome pack or watching Ana and I running around like lunatics trying to do the job of 10 people?

September has now arrived and we are taking stock of what the summer has produced. This year- not without the help and advice of the locals farmers (don’t believe it all)- we have harvested 40 to 50kg of onions, now hanging proudly in “la cantina”, 50kg+ of tomatoes which we made into 20kg+ passatta as the rest were eaten and 10kg of peppers and cauliflowers turned into agrodolce. And hurray! The firewood is finally ready! Around 8 tonnes dried, split and carried to the house ready for the winter. Just another 7 tonnes to go and we will be finished. The summer rains did not help the drying process and every time I thought it was nearly dry enough, along would come another huge rainstorm. The rains have also played havoc with the vines; what damage the deer and boar did last year the rains have been stiff competition. Despite regular spraying with a copper and sulphur solution the mildew has had the last laugh. Whilst the harvest when it arrives in the next couple of weeks will not be the best in history, I can now tour the area and see who produces natural wine and who has a little help from our friends at ICI. As you can imagine no-one ever tells you, they are just wine experts.

In view of the expected poor harvest I’m putting into play another plan I’ve had for several years but never quite got that far down the list. Cider! The first autumn apples are in the cellar and the rest will follow soon…..what could possibly go wrong?

There has been an addition to our little patch of tranquil northern Tuscany introduced by our neighbour and trusted advice-giver Bruno. He has taken a different approach to the deer, wild-boar and birds who visit his vineyard for a tasty snack of nearly ripe grapes. Instead of a fence, Bruno has seen the last of our summer guests depart and bought a gas powered cannon. Initially it went off every 3 minutes we have now negotiated it down to every 10.  The noise generated makes the bombs in the “Curva” at “La Spezia” seem quiet so I’m thinking of taking it to the home game against Livorno.  However, over a glass of last years’ production Bruno told me proudly that it was deterring everything. One man’s gain however is generally another man’s loss. Bruno and I have become great friends after his horse fell into our pool so sometimes for the sake of a friendship things are best left unsaid. My garden has turned into a wild life park!

The bee hobby has survived the first summer. The rains have meant that despite the love attention and sugar syrup on cloudy days when they don’t appear overly excited to exit the house, the net return of honey has been zero. However, I can confirm they are still there which is more than most thought would be the case by the end of the summer. Attention has turned to dealing with varroa mites and getting the bee-hives ready for winter. My friend Stefano at Pungiglione (http://www.ilpungiglione.org ) has befriended me and is making attempts to turn me into a bee-keeper. I used to think it was because he was a nice bloke but I suspect on the subject of bees if I’m left out in the wilds on my own there’s a disaster waiting to happen. His latest attempt was to invite me to a Saturday morning course on how to deal with the varroa mites. It all seemed quite easy. Open a jar, put some bees in, add a powder similar to flour, shake them around, upturn the jar with a grate over it and watch the mites drop out. From that you can see how bad the infestation is and deal accordingly. I did make an attempt at trying this but I hasten to add Stefano has promised to be here in the next few days. More on that when he comes. . .


July 23rd: Farming life…almost.

The main focus of the last few days has been to sort out the duck(lings) a pond. Digging in this heat feels like penance for something- seriously scorching. But the ducklings need some respite too so I continue to slog on. Otherwise I fear they may develop identity crises; very comfortably living alongside their chicken friends.

On the produce front the garden is doing me proud and I’m beginning to contemplate life as a farmer (half joking). We have peppers,  beetroot, tomatoes of various varieties, beans, courgettes, blackberries, carrots, potatoes and aubergines. With only two predators at-large; the beans are covered in black fly which I am painstakingly removing and the potatoes…well… I’m not actually sure who it is but they are being dug up in the night. Badgers perhaps…if I manage to fend them off though I think we’ll be on for a mega harvest, 300kg or more!

Sagre, Festas and Panigacci: July 14th

The heat continues and the Sagre and Festas (festivals and parties) are getting under way. Music and food and generally fun leisurely times everywhere. Festival food means something different over here, no overpriced chips and limp burgers, not even a mini doughnut in sight. The Italians, like with most areas of cuisine bring out the big guns at festival time. The finest offering in my opinion has to be panigacci; round unleavened bread baked between testo (metal plates) in stacks. Delicious with ricotta and pesto and very typical of the Ligurian coastline we live not far from.

Speaking of the coast we are hoping to take a trip to Levanto as soon as we think we can take a day off the incessant mowing and copper spraying of the garden. Keep an eye out for tips and places to eat in our day trips section on our return. Back in the garden everything continues to go at full force. Sadly that includes the deer, who this week have made off with half of the roses growing next to the pool and the bark of an entire olive tree!

Hot hot hot; July 2nd

It’s really getting scorching over here now. Which is lovely -growing up in England you learn quite quickly to make to the most of it if it’s not raining- and it’s making the garden steam ahead but it does make it trickier to keep up with it all. The grass is the main point of contention, it seems to grow as soon as my back is turned at a rate that feels insurmountable.  And after our strange bout of hail in June the oidio (mildew) problem is in full force with the vines needing natural sulphur copper solution regularly.

The vegetables however are having a great time. The aubergines are a particular triumph this year. We are making agrodolce, a traditional sweet (dolce) and sour (agro) sauce to preserve aubergines in jars with fennel. And beginning to lay out the logs to dry in preparation for the winter. Right now however the thought of a roaring log fire does not entice.

War cries from the woods: June 19th

The summer heat continues. While I may be struggling the plants are loving it! Veg is steaming a long and very excitingly the olives are in blossom and it looks like it will be a good crop this year. Sadly insect life doesn’t seem at all deterred by the heat and my daily ritual of removing them from everything seems to be a loosing battle.

Other wildlife are definitely around. The deer patrol the perimeter of the fence around the vines, ever hopeful that there might be a new gap that they can slip though. Occasionally they look like they might attempt to jump it but gladly not so far, that would be a nasty discovery- a deer stuck on the fence- because surely they couldn’t clear it. The boar are making themselves known too, we have heard them in the woods two nights in a row now. We are very much hoping it’s not a war cry or that an attack is imminent!

Hot: June 13th

As a Brit, I have learnt to take pleasure when the weather is good. And when I say good I mean not raining. But these past few days I have been challenged by the heat. 35 degrees is not something an Englishman is used to (even after having lived here for some years!) I can’t say I don’t enjoy it sometimes, but the joys of eating outside and not needing a jumper wear thin when you are sweating your guts up trying to mow the grass. It’s not just me who is suffering, the chickens are not happy. I have never really thought about how warm feathers might be, light and sometimes waterproof but warm?! Poor hens are doing there best at staying in the shade at all times. The same can’t be said for the chicks and ducklings who are far too excited about EVERYTHING to let a little sun get in the way of their explorations!