25 May 2015

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Now where did that come from? There we were, sitting at the table outside the kitchen, commenting on the wonderful mildness of the air and the joy of being able to be in the open, when the skies opened. Half an hour and 20mm later, it was all over. A rainbow, brilliant sunshine, and now pillows of thick mist billowing up from the bottom of the valley. Quite magical.

That’s spring for you. It’s most confusing, and people’s short weather-memories get shorter as a result.

“This spring has been so cold and wet,” people say. Until I point out (the great advantage of keeping track of what’s in your rain gauge is that you can be an unbearable pedant) that in the past ten weeks we have had rain on just five days. And that one week ago when I was in the awful shopping mall in Collestrada (a circle of hell and therefore bound to be warmer than most places) it was 31°C. Anything but cold.

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When we first moved here, we used to comment, amazed, on the lack of fauna. There were semi-feral cats, of course. And plenty of birdsong. But if you ever saw anything more than that, it was noteworthy.

Would it sound ungrateful of me to say that I wish we could go back to that? Let’s leave aside the viper among the roses in the orchard and the massive grass snake basking in the sun on the step right outside the kitchen: I’m going to be generous and admit that snakes are an unfortunate part of necessary nature (though I do have my reservations about the necessity of vipers which I think should be put in the same ‘pointless’ category as wasps and ants).

But the exponential growth of the boar population – despite local hunters slaughtering as savagely as they can – is worrying. There’s rarely an evening at the moment when some boar parent (C says I’m not allowed to gender stereotype and call it a boar-mummy) isn’t to be seen strolling about down in the field with his/her flotilla of fawn-coloured little ones.

Perhaps even more worryingly, there are the deer.

These beasts – roe deer I believe – used to hang out on the far side of the motorway, plaguing gardeners on the Tuscan side. That was fine. For me. Now they have migrated and they’re getting very very cocky.

The other morning two were playing ring-o-ring-o-roses around the stand of willows in the field. Around they went for about five minutes, not a bit disturbed by my not at all quiet presence up on the terrace. As I went closer to the edge to shout at them, I spied another one, two layers down – a huge beast with very pointy horns – which just stood and stared at me, chewing contemplatively. “Go away,” I said. Nothing doing. “Who do you think you are?” It just stood there. It may even have taken a couple of steps in my direction but perhaps that was just its general sassy attitude working on my imagination.

After we had stared at each other for a bit, it calmly turned and sauntered away. What a nerve.

For the time being, there’s plenty for them to nibble on in the overgrown field, but I know that won’t last long. They’ll get bored with that restaurant and make their way up here for a square meal in my veggie garden beds. Short of surrounding them all with two-metre-high razor wire, I don’t know how to keep them out. Such a pain.

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Living in CdP is a bit like living on an island: everyone knows everything about everyone, and as any story does the rounds, it acquires gloss. So when I mentioned my friend Peter Hurd in some context I can’t recall to a girl I know vaguely, it was so good to hear the story of Peter’s cat.

Hannibal is the biggest, most solid cat I have ever seen and had (probably has) no idea that he is a cat. If you’re making a phone call, he’ll sit on the phone and help. If you’re using Peter’s computer, he’ll sit on the keyboard and stare at the screen. He spent his whole life until Peter’s death in Peter’s flat, his outside world consisting of no more than the tiny balcony.

According to my informant – who never met Peter, just knew him as the elderly English gentleman who wandered around town – they sent a driver down from England specially to take Hannibal away after Peter died. He had a great big van all to himself, and the driver was his dedicated attendant, catering to his every whim. He took days to reach the UK, so he wouldn’t be too traumatised by his journey.

“That’s what’s so wonderful about you English,” she said. “You really know how animals should be treated.”

To be fair, Peter’s daughters made very comfortable arrangements for getting Hannibal to his new home with one of them near Birmingham. And he was driven across Europe, though certainly not sitting like royalty belted into the front seat with his own minibar. The trauma of the trip together with the trauma of experiencing grass for the first time in his new garden took its toll at the beginning.

I’m looking forward, however, to the next time I hear the tale, when the driver will no doubt have acquired livery and a top hat, and the van will have morphed into a Daimler.

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About Gardens, Food & Umbria

I am a garden designer, working throughout central Italy. I have lived in Italy for over 30 years – for many years in Rome but now in the wilds of Umbria where I have fixed up one wreck of a house, am working on another, and tinker endlessly with two and a half hectares of land, some of which is my garden.
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