22 June 2012


Wednesday was the hottest day of the year so far, they say, and the themometre on the balcony certainly shot up to 37°. So what did we decide to do? After years of dithering, we  chose that particular day to put rush mats on top of the chicken house roof. A tin roof. In full sun. You have to doubt our sanity.

It involved two full mornings’ work: on Tuesday, we arranged wires across the roof (or rearranged them, really, because there were wires up there to hold the R. felipes Kiftsgate), screwing them down well in order to have something to tie the mats on to. Then on Wednesday we heaved the mats up and lashed them down. Both times we decided, sensibly, to make early starts. Hopeless. We just don’t do early. It was not long off 9AM before we got going. And it was already hot.

The rush mats we used are thick and local. I did a (very quick) round of local suppliers to see what was on offer, and it wasn’t impressive. Cheap imports of flaky stuff which looked like it would break up and blow away at the first storm. But in the end, a local farm equipment supplier suggested reeds from Lake Trasimeno. Perfect. Very tough. And there’s something reassuring about products that grew nearby. I don’t know if it was this company that made them. But that’s the general idea. The change is astounding: from ugliest shed in Umbria to rather picturesque outbuilding. The mats need to age and darken a little, as does the render. But it’s a relief driving down the lane now. And, miraculously, it was done without severe sunstroke. We both came though unscathed. Though L, now, is definitely suffering.

Not from mat-attaching but from having his bent nasal septum straightened, after a lifetime of aching winter  sore throats.

The little hospital in Castiglione del Lago is a gem. For a start, it occupies a to-die-for piece of real estate, on the isthmus sticking out into Lake Trasimeno, with only the massive ruins of the Medieval fortifications between it and the water.  It’s shiny clean, patients are put in properly equipped rooms of one or two beds, with bathrooms and televisions (€1 coins needed to work them) and the nursing staff is human and friendly.

Though they don’t seem to do much. That still baffles me. There are cleaners to do the cleaning, of course. And some kind of ancillary nursing staff that appears from time to time with meagre food supplies which everyone expects the patient’s family to pad out with extras.

But the person pushing the dressings tray about while I watched  L slip in and out of his post-anaesthetic sleep was the surgeon, a cheery chap who would have looked more at home behind the desk in some council office than with a scalpel in hand: no nurse to swab the blood or pull off the plasters. When he turned to me and said “has he been all right? Is he running a temperature?” I wondered: why on earth should I know this? Isn’t there a thermometre on the ward? I didn’t see one. And I didn’t see any evidence that measurements like that were being taken.

Perhaps all that show of efficiency and frantic record-keeping that you get in Anglo-Saxon hospitals is otiose, or maybe it masks something very unsalubrious. It’s in British hospitals, after all, that super-bugs explode and cases of horrendous neglect and negligeance are uncovered, not here. Of course, we are exceptionally lucky, in an area where the health service really works. There are plenty of areas of Italy in which I would think much more than twice about getting myself to hospital.

In fact, many years ago I treated an ankle – sprained? fractured? – which had swollen to the size of a football with two days of lying on an airbed with my foot dangling in the Med rather than going to have it treated on the Amalfi Coast. I limped for months afterwards and had to be very careful about how and where I placed that foot. Foolish? Perhaps. But anything to do with ill-health in the Naples area is very dodgy indeed.


Another Indi incident – one that gave me yet another sleepless night. I had asked him to weed between the buddleia. I told him he could cut back the lilac which is taking over up there. I told him not to remove a single sprig of the Erygeron which is sprouting all over the place, prettily. While I was there with him, picking cherries, all went well. But in the half hour I was in the kitchen, he pruned everything, right up to the carpark, right back. That lovely area beneath the cherry tree – every time I got out of the car I looked at it and my heart leapt – had been a lush confusion of hydrangea and Viburnum opulus and Chaenomeles. Not they’re all sad little blobs, neatly trimmed into uncomfortably regular shapes. “I thought you’d like it,” was his I’m-so-hurt explanation. I almost wept. It’s a good thing that plants grow back.

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