Monday, July 31, 2006

Family dining (2)

This weekend we fitted in a double dose of family dining. On our way back from the cottage we called in to Farnham for lunch with my parents. In the evening we went round to Ian&Sarah's along with Jane&Pete for another evening of family dining. An excellent evening; my brother has a wicked wit and had me creased up with a tale of him and youngest son doing "boy looking" in the video store.

Sunday was a bike ride round Battersea Park and Wandsworth Common plus work on the Shed Called Jackson. It was like a Tom and Jerry cupboard - you know - open the door and everything falls out. Now it has a shelf for bits and bobs, a tool rack and several hooks for hanging the paella burner, strimmer cable and such like. So much more ruly.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Spanish visitors

We have a family from Spain staying with us this week. Mary was at college with Gael but they have not seen each other for 30 years! Gael moved to Spain, for her work, shortly after university and has been there ever since, married Juan and had a family, Norman and (little) Gael.

Gael was put in touch with us via Ros from Elgin when Ros heard they were coming to London and planning to stay in a hotel. We were delighted to be able to put them up. Why pay cental London prices when we have three spare bedrooms for guests!

We have been less successful in persuading them to use buses. It takes only a little tuition and street knowledge to work out which bus to catch from which stop but worth the effort. The London Underground is not air conditioned. Travelling by tube squashed in a super-heated tin can with above-ground temperatures of 35°C (95°F) is a *most unpleasant and sweaty* way to travel.

To get them out of London we and they have changed our plans and are going down to the cottage tonight to show them another side of England.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Thumpermonkey Lives! Dublin Castle, Camden. Thursday 03-Aug-06

Live @ Dublin Castle £4.50 Mit Flyer
Thumpermonkey Lives!
Thursday 3rd August @ 9PM 'til late
94 Parkway

Thumpermonkey Lives! Summer Tour 2006

Thumpermonkey Lives! Summer Tour 2006
Aug 03: Dublin Castle, London
Aug 04: Night and Day, Manchester
Aug 09: Pure, Sunderland
Aug 10 The Crown, Middlesborough
Aug 11: Venue TBC
Aug 12: Edwards No.8, Birmingham
Aug 18/19: Secret Festival (Shh)

A public demonstration of the recent album: "Chap With The Wings, Five Rounds Rapid".

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Lipson-Shiu Corporate Type Test

Forget Myers-Briggs, Belbin, Keirsey, FIRO-B, Enneagram and all those other pyschological instruments. This is the one to use: The Lipson-Shiu Corporate Type Test which classifies along four alternative axes:

• Intelligent-Stupid
• Lawful-Chaotic
• Important-Unimportant
• Good-Evil

I come out as a ...

SLUG (Board Monitor):

Worthy but dull. The SLUGs of this world can be relied on to follow orders unquestioningly. These individuals are highly prized for low-skill tasks like middle management, and make excellent drones (Example: Forrest Gump).

BTW Andrew Lipson does some awesome Lego Sculptures

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

T-shirt folding

A belated thank you to Bonnie Wren for transforming my t-shirt drawers. In her regular Super Sabado posting at the start of the year she pointed me at How to fold a T-Shirt (and the Long Sleeved version). Since then I have never folded a T-shirt any other way, it's *brill*! Thanks again Bonnie.

Monday, July 24, 2006

DIY in Bonnie Scotland

The weekend was spent in Bonnie Scotland visiting Mary's Mum. Sometimes Mary goes on her own, sometime I go with her. This time I went too and did some "Man of the House" stuff. The main task was repairing two window sills which had gone completely rotten. I am glad to say it all seemed to go quite smoothly, despite having to improvise the appropriate moulding by glueing and pinning together two simpler mouldings. By the time we left on Sunday afternoon all May had to do was apply a second coat of paint later in the week.

While we were there I also did "going up ladder to change security light bulb" and "fix cistern in bathroom". Mary did "assemble box for storing garden cushions" and "slap creosote all over garden shed". The latter she did with such enthusiasm that her beige shorts will never be the same again; they now look more like camouflage wear suitable for desert use.

Mary's sister very kindly added me to her car insurance so we didn't have to rent from Avis but it was noted that she only added me and not her own sister. Perhaps she feared Mary would go hooning in her shiny new Honda Civic. Being mobile did mean we were able to get lots of good things done including a couple of visits to the crematorium: on Saturday for May to put down some fresh flowers and on Sunday for Mary to install a vase with a small bush rose.

Saturday evening we did baby-sitting duties, assisted by May, so George&Sandra could go out. Fair exchange for use of the Honda. The two children were good as gold. Ross was out with his mates until it was time to drag him home (by mobile phone). Sarah spent some time with her friends but I had to entertain her part of the time by playing mini-golf, holding her upside down and doing headstands. Fortunately she had forgotten that I was the man who juggles small, furry animals or I would have been presented with the contents of the toy-box to send skywards.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

More T-shirt humour

One downside of not being super fit on Sunday's bike ride was that I got overtaken by many people. As a consequence I saw just the backs of some T-shirts and could only guess at the front, specifically [with my guess]:

[would I do it again?]

[what did he say?] *

*Life of Brian by Monty Python
See also previously "T-shirt humour"

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Saturday, July 08, 2006: Homeward bound

Saturday dawned brighter so time to take a last few photos to show family and friends. We dropped a set of keys off to Damico's the estate agent through whom we bought the property and who will arrange cleaning, linen and emergency support when we do eventually start letting out. We met Pierdonato, Signor Damico himself, who gave us a very stubbly kiss on both cheeks and enthused about the property, lots of "bella" and, thumping his chest, "cuore" (heart). He thoroughly approves of what we have done and the way we have done it. Very gratifying.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Friday, July 07, 2006: A damp finale

Our last day dampened by rain all afternoon but the ground works continue. Daniele has arranged for a stretch of the neighbouring farmer's wall to be rebuilt and some stones to be munched while the men and machines are here. Part of the trade off for agreeing where the new boundary wall should go. No skin off our nose and an excellent idea to keep on good terms with the neighbours. An unexpected bonus was that they munched part of the strada bianca so it is less jarring on the nerves and the suspension.

Olive tree in top driveway

Externally Donato has moved the olive tree to where it will give shade for at least one parked car. Internally the progress is not quite as promised. The washer-drier has turned up but both it and the oven have yet to be installed. The carpenter is due next week to make the cupboards for under the work surface and to box in the fridge and dishwasher.

There are a few bits of "making good" to be done and the last part of the garden to be covered with topsoil. We will email a snagging list (US: punch list) to Daniele next week ready for our next visit in six weeks time. By then all must be ready or he doesn't get the last tranche of money.

Thursday, July 06, 2006: Garden creation

Today was a day for retreating to the beach while the ground works continue. Out at 10, back at 4 to find great progress. Having removed the larger or reusable stones the team brought in a garden variety rock muncher. Unlike the industrial version (See "Rock Muncher") that does whole fields in a day, this more modest version converted the garden rubble and stone debris into dust and gravel ready for a covering of topsoil.

As far as we can tell this topsoil is coming from another project down the lane where they excavated for a huge double cisterna and underground garage; at least half a dozen lorry-loads so far. Spread about by the JCB, the garden is starting to look like a garden not some rock-strewn desert.

Our September visit will include visits to the local garden centre to stock up on hardy, drought resistant, low (nil) maintenance plants. Driving about we have been making a mental note of road side plants that seem to thrive naturally without human intervention of much water. We will certainly be replacing the black fig lost in the making of the drive, planting rosemary, lavender and a lemon tree (for the Gin and Tonic). There will also be a herb patch but beyond that we are still in the early planning stage.

In the evening we went over to Christine and John's for supper and met a crowd of their friends: Paulo, Simone and Patricia, Anne, her son Toby, and Reno, a neighbour. Plus got thoroughly slobbered by their bouncy Labradors, Kahn and Shah. Another post-midnight end to the day.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006: Rubble and extras

Today is the start of clearing and tidying the grounds. The JCB and Bobcat are back and started on moving piles of stone and levelling mounds of earth, also moving and olive tree to where it will shade the drive. They have some work ahead of them as the grounds / garden is a cross between a building site and a quarry.

Amongst the piles of stones is a smaller heap of shaped flagstones. Having finally spent longer than 24 hours there we decided the path round the back needs extending to give us a small patio area. This will get the late afternoon and early evening sun. It will also give us a private area to sit out when the main courtyard is in use by paying guests. Another cost overrun but what the heck!

Looking back over the last 18 months I am very happy with all the "extras" decisions we have made even if they all added to the final bill:
• making the Lamia kitchen smaller so we could gain a second bedroom
• knocking through two doors from the Lamia dining room into the bedrooms
• doing the aesthetic reconstruction on the front cone
• restoring the pizza oven
• creating a second driveway which enabled us to block up the original entrance and have an enclosed courtyard
• paving the *whole* of the courtyard by widening the flower bed (and our budget)
• building a low perimeter wall round the entire plot (there was no demarcation between our land and the farmer's field)

New wall, flower bed and courtyard

Daniele came and presented us with a final schedule of costs that was nearly double the original base estimate, partly because that base was the bare minimum required to make it habitable and partly because of all the extras we opted for. Since this will become our main (or at least equal first) home I am happy to have spent the money. Also, as Daniele points out, to come back later and do more extras would cost much more. There have been economies of scale and logistics doing all the work while the specialist stonemasons, other trades and equipment are already on site.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006: Thunderstorms and pasta

During the night we had a tremendous thunderstorm right over our heads. Not so much rain but deafening thunder of the jolt-you-awake, have-we-been-struck variety. We hadn't but it was enough to trip the main fuse so no water until we switched the pump back on. At which point we discovered the boiler was leaking and had to switch the pump back off again until the plumber could sort it out.

On a previous visit we had agreed to install an extra safety fuse to protect the electricity meter, which is out in the lane, from the effects of lightning strikes. This means when we are plunged into darkness we only have to reset the trip-switch in the house rather than venture out into the elements to reset the main ENEL fuse.

We are surrounded by fields and olive groves of the kind that feature in travel guides describing the Italian countryside. These books focus on the obvious features of any foreign land: the architecture, art and history, the food, culture and language. Howvever they tend to miss out on the little everyday things that also characterise a country like how Italian men drive with one arm dangling out the window. Or how every supermarket, large or small, has a complete aisle dedicated to dried pasta in all its myriad forms.

If you wander round a kitchen showroom or inspect an unoccupied house for sale there is always a packet of pasta on the worktop as 'window dressing'. It is clearly iconic emotional shorthand for home / food / family.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Hampton Court to Hove 2006

As well as catching up on the saga of the holiday, this week Mary and I have been in training for today's 60 mile (96km) bike ride ( As well as cycling to work and back four days this week we went for training rides on Tuesday and Thursday evening of 22 and 25 miles respectively. Very pleasant along the Thames path as far as Ham and back through Richmond Park.

Today we were up at 6am to drive over to Hampton for registration and set off by 7:30. We were joined by Kate&Ian who put us on to this ride in the first place (see Ian's previous mention in "Always wear a helmet")

Ian shot off and left the three of us to make our way to Hove in our own time - which turned out to be 7hr 20 min which I was happy with considering the hills, the blazing sunshine and the frequent rest stops. Ian, having thighs of steel, did it in under 3½ hours.

Ian, Kate, Mary and Mark on Hove sea front.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Monday, July 03, 2006: Our first dinner party

During the day two 'lads' came and grouted all the pathways laid by Billy "No Mates" last week. This past week we have had almost daily visits from Daniele (architect) and Donato (foreman) who is directing the lads. The various bits of wiring, plumbing and plastering continue but not at the same frenetic pace of last Monday.

In the evening we had our very first dinner party in Puglia. Christine, a tutor on Mary's NLP course, lives the far side of Ostuni about 15 m (24 km) away. So we called and invited her and husband John over for supper. John's GPS was able to confirm our exact location as N 40° 45' 912", E 17° 22' 604" and elevation as 480mt above sea level.

[thanks to wikipedia for the picture]

We have a mystery tree in our garden. We could identify all the other trees (olive, green fig, black fig, almond, apple) but not this last tree. I could not believe a farmer would plant anything unless it had some utility value. John was able to identify it for us as a white mulberry. The grub-like fruits are very tasty and would, I imagine, make a delicious crumble or flan.

We served a simple supper of cherry tomato, mozzarella and rocket (US: rucola) followed by grilled chicken (marinated in olive oil, lemon juice and garlic), fried mushrooms and peppers and capers. We chatted away till midnight when our guest left with a return visit arranged for Thursday.

Sunday, July 02, 2006: Small doors

The Trulli are not quite as large as they may appear in the photos. They have been nick-named "Dwarves' Cathedrals". This picture will give you an idea of scale, I am 5' 8½" (174cm).

We have a habit of buying old houses with small doors. The door into the bathroom is 65 in (165 cm) and into the middle Trulli (illustrated) only 59 in (150 cm). A couple of times I have gone to the bathroom for a pee in the middle of the night and staggered back to bed clutching my forehead and muttering, "Ow! Ow! Ow! That hurt!!" I am still learning to duck walk like Groucho Marx.

Avon Cottage holds the record though, the door into the third bedroom is only 44 in (112 cm) high by 22 in (56 cm) wide. This is because the room is converted loft space and the door is squeezed between the oak of the cruck frame and the brick of the chimney. Not surprisingly it is a favourite with visiting children.

In Puglia the door size is as much a function of the local population. Here in Southern Italy, Mary and I tower a full head above half the people at the local market. Mary's height, pale Scottish complexion, freckles, blue eyes and blonde hair attract a number of curious stares. If, as they often do, guess us as German, Mary corrects them in Italian "Sono Scozzese" (I'm Scottish).

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Saturday, July 01, 2006: White Roads

Another lazy day of 35 °C (95 °F), blues skies, sunbathing and reading. Retreat indoors for lunch and the hottest part of the day. More relaxing in the afternoon then a cycle into Cisternino, as much for the exercise as any purpose, though we did acquire a couple of water-bottles and bottle holders for the bikes. Mary has signed us up for another charity bike ride the weekend following our return so we need to keep in practice. This will be twice our previous ride, 60 miles from Hampton Court to Hove (

The Hovel is down a dirt track known in Italian as a "Strada Bianca" - literally "White Road" - which well describes this dry and dusty, narrow limestone track. Everything is covered in fine white dust including my best deck shoes. As we were going out for a meal I thought I had better give them a clean. Burgundy shoe polish is not on my normal holiday packing list so I thought I would improvise with the furniture polish - a bit of silicone wax, neutral colour - just the job. Unfortunately I grabbed the "Raid" fly spray and gave my shoes good dousing before I noticed my mistake. So my feet should be free of flies and wasps for a while.

Friday, June 30, 2006: Weights and measures

Friday is market day in Locorotondo so we cycled into town and brought a few items including a couple of coverlets for the twin bedded room and more kitchen utensils. It would appear that few Italian housewives measure out their ingredients as we have been looking for a measuring jug for the last half dozen visits and only just found one. As for measuring spoons, I think we will have to bring a set from the UK.

In the late afternoon we went to the local furniture shop and settled on a different day bed, a table with two three-seater banquettes and two dining chairs. Handed over EUR 50 deposit and agreed to call them when we are back in September to arrange delivery.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Thursday, June 29, 2006: Of water and electricity

Part of the plans for this holiday was to order furniture for the Lamia house (the rectangular one on the right) to be delivered in September when we are back again. So we hopped in the Micra and drove down to Fasano to visit Mobiltre (furniture store) and look at dining tables and day beds. For preference metal-framed and glass-topped to echo the internal doors Daniele has had made specially. We identified a candidate truckle bed but didn't order as we had other shops and a week to go.

By this stage the squad of workers had shrunk to just one. Every day Billy "No Mates" is here working on the remainder of the path plus neat-fitting stone covers for the electrical access points and the cisterna (underground water cistern).

The cisterna was not complete last time and we were running off a temporary tank (big blue thing in earlier picture). Now the original cisterna has been deepened, re-roofed, re-lined and re-filled from the communal agricultural cisterna in the road. The water is free but it is rain and ground water so we buy bottled water for drinking and use cisterna water for everything else.

It is still strange to have the lights dim every time you flush the toilet or turn on the tap. This is partly because the drop in pressure cause the water pump to kick in and partly because of the Italian electrical supply. We are the last house at the end of a line of electricity poles and, like many Italian homes, had a supply rated at a pathetic 1.5kW. That meant if you plugged in the kettle and a hairdrier at the same time the main fuse blew and you were plunged into darkness.

We have paid, twice, to be upgraded, once to 3.0kW then to 4.5kW. Now the lights just flicker but we still have to be mindful of the number of appliances on the go at any one time. And we have a whistling kettle that we boil on the gas hob.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006: Italian bugs

The insect life round here is impressive. The slaters* on steroids are, if anything, even larger than on our last visit. Like Hollywood hopefuls looking for a part in some Jurassic Park follow-up. The beetles and bugs are larger than life too and there are huge swarms of butterflies of all colours. The lizards come in two sizes: small brown ones (illustrated) that we have nicknamed "Larry" and the foot long (30cm) bright green ones which are very camera-shy. Even the Turkish Gecko put in a brief re-appearance.

We also have small inch long (2cm) scorpions. I did accidentally transfer one into the car on the bottom of a bag and before I could shoo it out it had scuttled, irretrievably, between the cushions of the back seat. H-m-m, maybe I just won't mention that till we get back home.

The bag contained laundry from out last few trips here. We *had* hoped to put it through the washing machine that Daniele had assured us would be installed by the time we arrived. Looking at the hole where it should be we decided to drop a couple of bags off at the local cleaners for a service wash.

*Scottish for Wood louse (US: Roly-poly bug).

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Tuesday, June 27, 2006: Dining under the stars

Tuesday was spent at the beach down past Savelletri. We called in at Emmezeta (local hypermarket) on the way out to pick up a few more pieces for the house: 2 under-bed storage crates, 2 small bedside tables, de-humidifying tablets, more fire lighters and charcoal for the barbeque, etc.

Then we hit the sunloungers till lunchtime at La Rotonda de la Rosa. After seafood antipasta washed down with 1/2 litre of local vino bianco Mary had the seafood linguini. I passed but had a tartufo nero (dark chocolate truffle icecream) over which they had poured a good measure of local liqueur. That meant we had to return to the sunloungers for a siesta until I was safe to drive home again.

The tan is coming along sporadically. Mary says I look like a Battenburg cake but it is more like a Neopolitan ice cream with tastefully contrasting blocks of coffee, vanilla and strawberry. Pass the (sun) cream!

That evening, for the second night running we barbequed in our newly enclosed courtyard. It is wonderful to be able to dine under the stars - clearly visible, there is so little light pollution - wearing just shorts and a T-shirt scarcely believing the cuteness of our surroundings. It was almost hallucinatory, can this - finally - be real.

It has been over three years since we first saw this place. It took 18 months to buy it with many false alarms and abortive trips to Italy. Then, once ours, the building works took forever (17 months so far) and might just be finished before we leave this trip.

Monday, June 26, 2006: Workmen start early

A rude awakening at 5:30am (UK: 4:30am) as the first of the workmen arrive and start breaking rocks outside our bedroom window and I am not talking metaphorically here. By the time we are up and breakfasted there is a full squad in action: eleven (!) men, a JCB digger and a Bob Cat mini-bulldozer. Needless to say the work proceeds at an astonishing pace.

As Monday is market day in Cisternino we left them to it and went to stock up on fruit and veg for the week. By the end of the day the original entrance is walled across and the inner wall for the flower bed is done. Several metres of the perimeter pathway are constructed and most of the floor lights cabled in. The concrete beside the pizza oven steps is plastered over and the entire complex given its second coat of limewash so all is gleaming white and looking fab.

Several of the lads worked a 12 hour day before disappearing. One of them returned at nine o'clock that night to dump a load of capstones for the boundary walls. So we got an early night expecting another onslaught the following day.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Sunday, June 25, 2006: First inspection

Breakfast part one was a cup of tea with UHT milk left by Cordia, our first guest, a couple of weeks ago. We had arrived too late last night to go via the shops and stock up as originally planned.

We made a tour of inspection to see what progress had been made since our last visit four weeks ago. The works were *not* completed - as expected - but there was lots to see.

The courtyard paving was finished and the perimeter path went two-thirds of the way round the building. The inset lights in the path and roof terrace were in place but not wired in. A cooker, dishwasher and fridge had appeared in the Lamia house awaiting installation.

Most impressive though was the aesthetic restoration of the front cone. Now the front door arch matches the courtyard door and the roof line has a very traditional shape to it. I am really pleased we went for it, it looks fantastic <G>

At nine o'clock it was a quick drive to the local supermarket for milk and bread for breakfast part two and food for the rest of the day. We had treated ourselves to a convertible from Avis, the smallest they do - a Nissan Micra 1.4 - it must be one of the smallest cabriolet around. You would have to call it a fun car because you couldn't take it seriously: 0-60 with an egg timer, a boot (US: trunk) that could scarely hold an overnight bag when the roof is concertinered into it and back seats only suitable for children or double amputees. Still it is just the job for us: top down, glorious sunshine and wall to wall blue sky.

Saturday, June 24, 2006: We missed the plane

Well the relaxing holiday didn't quite get off to the laid back start we had intended. The taxi ride to Gatwick used up contingency we didn't have and we missed the plane.

Gary, the supervisor, did his best to get us on board but the luggage handling agents were adamant. Gary offered to put us on the next Bari flight but that wasn't till Thursday! So instead he revalidated our tickets for the 14:00 to Rome. We checked our backs and retired to the business class lounge for a lunch of BA sandwiches and white burgundy.

We used the time to book ourselves an onward flight, Rome to Bari, on Alitalia. That meant four hours to kill in Rome airport and we finally arrives at the Hovel-in-the-Hills™ at 11:30pm - seven hours behind schedule but at least we got there the same day.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

I'm back, I'm back

I'm on the right track *

Two weeks without internet access or blog entries!

Fortunately I bought a notebook and kept a paper blog (or diary as they used to be known). I will retro-post but in the mean time here is the before and after...

* Hello hello I'm back again by Garry Glitter