14 June 2018

Leaning against my car the other evening on the road from Monteleone, waiting for the tow-away vehicle to arrive, I mused on what might have happened had my clutch pedal detached itself from whatever links it to the transmission 24 hours previously, when I was pounding along the motorway, rocked by thunderous trucking. The thought made me nauseous. It wouldn’t have gone well.

I had to cling to that sense of relief – of having been let off lightly by Fate – later that evening as the second scary hailstorm in the space of a week shredded what was left of my roses; the next morning when the mechanic phoned to tell me that repairing the hail damage to my clutch-less car would probably cost more than the car was worth; and later that day when the washing machine – not wanting to be left out of the action – gave up the ghost.

Throughout this I had L stuck in Puglia when he was meant to be in Turin (thank you air traffic controllers) and in need of logistical assistance. And C in Kazakhstan pestering me about the extent of hail damage (none, luckily) to the paintwork of the unsightly camper van abandoned here by her beau as they traipse round central Asia. All in all, it wasn’t a good 24 hours.

In the end, I found other reasons to be cheerful – and I mean reasons other than the clouds of fireflies that accompanied me soothingly as I walked back home down the lane in the dark after I had dumped the car outside the mechanic’s front gate.

My roses are looking pretty shredded, but my vegetable garden escaped relatively unscathed.

I discovered that – very uncharacteristically for stingy me – I had allowed myself to be cajoled into paying to extend the guarantee on the washing machine for three years beyond the statutory two, so it’s still covered.

And as for our dented and scratched car paintwork… I asked the mechanic “how bad does it really look?” (I was too much of a coward to go and look myself.)

“Well,” he said, “you don’t really notice it now because the car’s so dirty…”

“Stop right there,” I said. “I don’t want to know anything else. From this day forward, that car never gets washed. Problem solved.” And so it will be. Dented, scratched and filthy. But functioning without impinging too much more on the bank account.

The two hailstorms were the (bitter) cherries on the cake of this impossibly damp spring. May ended up chucking 214mm of rain into my gauge. Depending on which average you consult, what we should get in May is somewhere between 55mm and 60mm. So we had a lot.

For both hailstorms I was in the house by myself. For both I couldn’t work out what was being thrown on the roof by whom. Golf ball-sized things pummelled us for about 30 minutes in the first, followed by blanketing rain. I made the mistake of thinking that, well wrapped in waterproof cape and boots, I could make an appointment up in town. Three steps out of the car and somehow I was drenched inside my protective layers. I still don’t understand how. As I scurried back round the final bend towards home, a lightning bolt streaked down into the valley in front of me, presumably seeking out the water in the little lake down there. For an hour afterwards, I had to keep blinking to get rid of the blazing zig-zig across my vision. When I checked my little greenhouse the following morning, the roof was full of holes.

When the second hit, I thought that branches were falling off the big oak tree – resounding thuds, far apart. Protected on our slope of the hill, we were spared the worst of it. The repair place where I had left my car – also a car showroom – was towing dozens of new vehicles off to be panel-beaten and resprayed the following morning. Looking at security camera footage, they told me, they saw missiles the size of tennis balls. I know people with broken windows in their houses, and others with no garden left at all.

The effects of this rain and hail and unseasonable cold (it isn’t, in fact, cold now: between precipitations it’s generally a rather lovely sunny high 20s) are manifold, and I’m sure I’ve moaned sufficiently about them elsewhere.

My work is a spirit-dampening procession of disgruntled clients, many of whom just can’t imagine why things can’t be done sooner. Pulled this way and that, I’ve barely had a moment to dedicate to my garden and what I have had, I’ve tended to use in the orto: we have to eat, and the peas – ordinary and mangetout – and broad beans and lovely lettuce that I’m harvesting (almost) make me feel that all is not lost.

The only other thing I do regularly outside is mow the lawn. It is – unusually for my grass, for which I have to say thank you rain: credit where credit’s due – thick and lush, and the sight of it in its magnificent fresh-cut state distracts the eye from the mess that reigns elsewhere… a simple sleight of gardening hand but one I find foolproof.

My fruit trees are fruitless, save of course for the resilient quince which produces whatever happens. I don’t have a single cherry, sweet or sour; neither do I have peaches. What we do have are raspberries, great juicy ones in considerable numbers, and the strawberries are plump. Oh, I was forgetting the mulberries by the gate which this year are more impressive than their usual measly selves. I only pick them to eat en route to the vegetable garden. But maybe I should think of a harvest. It’s a battle, however, between me and the clouds of noisy birds that lift out of the trees each time I pass. I suspect in the end they may win.

I was almost forgetting: an era has ended. The landscape-blighting, nerve-wracking, neighbour-infuriating crane has gone from Mario’s field. It had been there for 13 years, dismantled and abandoned at the end of the reconstruction of our home because it no longer met health and safety requirements. The final struggle was fraught.

I announced to the builder that he would receive the last very small chunk of his payment for the house in town the day he had his rusty old crane towed away. He laughed. I told him I meant it. He looked panicky.

“Go on,” he said, “you pay me, and I’ll make sure it’s gone by June.”

I asked him why on earth he thought I would think it would be gone by June when he’d been telling me for 13 years he’d remove it.

“So you don’t trust me any more,” he said stamping and huffing. Naturally I pointed out that that was the most childish thing I’d ever heard him say. Then I told him that after 13 years of requesting, pleading, threatening and many other modes, I knew that his good intentions were so many paving stones along the road to nowhere. (I didn’t exactly put it like that.)

“But I mean it this time! I didn’t really mean it all those other times. I wasn’t really planning to take it away!”

“So for 13 years you’ve been telling me lies. And now you’re surprised I don’t trust you to do it?” I asked. The argument continued off and on for a couple of weeks.

But now it’s gone and he has his money, though now we scowl when we bump into each other. The monstrosity is no longer looming over my vegetable garden. All I have to do now is get rid of the camper van.


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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