21 March 2016


There’s something very special about whole days spent in the garden in March. You know that tomorrow there might be hail. It might even snow. The temperature is quite likely to drop by half. But there you are, out in your t-shirt, digging. It feels like gloriously stolen time.

This last weekend, that saw spring in, was just that way. Despite one semi-functioning arm, I spent it weeding and pruning.

March gardening is very special: a month down the road an edge of panic creeps in as you realise that in your battle with rampaging nature, nature is probably going to win. This time of year, however, lulls you with the illusion that perhaps, just perhaps, you’ve got it all under control. Weeds come up effortlessly out of the still slightly damp ground; your smooth passage through beds leaves them looking beautifully earthy and promisingly ready to burst into life. And all around, birds are shrieking (in my case on Saturday because I was working outside the kitchen, infuriatingly close – for the bluetits’ taste – to the bird feeders they have been gorging on all winter) and you can almost hear things unfurling.

I weeded and tidied all along the new beds outside the kitchen. My slow and rather painful progress meant that I committed fewer crimes of over-hastiness, though I admit to sheering the top off a lovage plant which had failed to poke a single leaf out to warn me of its existence. A pity. And I finally finished pruning and weeding the Rugosa roses up by the front gate. This should have been done way before we left for New York in February but somehow it just wasn’t. I was lopping off delicious new leaves as I went along, feeling very bad about that. But the branches were weak and straggly and desperately needed sprucing up.


I’d love to say I’m racing ahead with my house in town but I feel things are moving painfully slowly. I have done most of what I need for the planning permission – a very much simpler process than when we did this house – but not quite enough to be ready to hand it over to the town council. And I now have two of the three quotes I asked for for the first bit of the work. One is slightly higher than the other; the slightly higher one was provided by someone who is reputed to be the fastest builder around.

The third, undelivered, quote is (will be?) from S, who did this house. S is a true craftsman, and a brilliant restorer. His work is painstaking and perfect. But his life is a never-ending dirge of illness, misfortune, mishap and personal disaster. His timescale is agonising.

When I bumped into him the other day, I asked: S, so where’s my quote? He shook his head as vigorously as you can when the weight of the world is sitting on your shoulders and threw me a despairing look.

“My sister had a baby two weeks ago,” he groaned.

I waited a few moments for the rest of the explanation, before it dawned on me that that was it.

Between them my sisters have had three babies but if it stopped me at all, it was only for long enough to pop a champagne cork. Not S: there’s little in his life isn’t an almost insurmountable obstacle.


We have applied for Italian citizenship. This is something we have been meaning to do for ages. There comes a moment when being totally disenfranchised – in the country of your nationality and the country of your residence – becomes truly irksome. But our decision was shunted into higher gear by the fear that the UK may really vote to leave the EU, potentially leaving us in a weird limbo of no day-to-day healthcare and no pensions and no automatic right of abode in this country where we’ve lived for 35 years, the only place we’ve ever paid taxes.

I sent my online application off into the void in August and heard nothing. Research turned up the fascinating fact that the interior ministry had 730 days to say yes or no to my request. But finally the other day I realised someone had browsed through my application, and found it wanting: I need to send translations of my birth and criminal records certificates, both of which also need to be apostilled. Apostilled. Who ever heard of such a word?

It is, I have learned, a process by which a state recognises that its official documents are, um, official documents with genuine signatures. And not pretend. But, I ask myself, who is to certify that the official apostille is not a fake? How ridiculously contorted can such a thing be made?

Nice ladies in the Australian embassy made getting my birth certificate apostilled seem simple: I’m going there on Tuesday morning and (fingers crossed) it should be a breeze.

In a call to the UK embassy, a woman who emanated both boredom and hostility in dazzling quantities told me it was nothing to do with them, and that I needed the www.gov.uk site (tag line: “simpler, clearer, faster”. My arse).

The site tells me they can only apostille my criminal records certificate if it’s signed. Is that tiny scribble down the bottom where it says ‘checked by’ a signature? I call someone in Milton Keynes (that’s where the apostille office is) to ask. They don’t know: why don’t I send an email request? I scan the certificate and send my request. In response, they send a link to their FAQ page, which was the unhelpful page that made me call in the first place.

I send the scan the UK police department that issued the certificate to ask “is that a signature”? Their response: “all our documents are signed” – with no reference to mine in particular.

It’s a Kafka-esque pot of the stickiest treacle. It’s sapping my will to do anything much. But it’s also giving me a warm fuzzy comforting feeling about Italian bureaucracy: perhaps it isn’t the worst in the world after all. Though of course they do have all those days remaining to thrust untold other spokes in my citizenship wheel.

About Gardens, Food & Umbria

I am a garden and landscape designer, working throughout central Italy and beyond. I have lived in Italy for over 35 years – first in Rome but now in Città della Pieve, Umbria, where I have restored my country home and transformed a medieval townhouse into three rental suites. To relax, I tinker endlessly with two and a half hectares of land, some of which is my garden.
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