Homemade yogurt

In my latest battle in the war against single-use plastics, I have banned shop-bought yogurt. As I rarely eat yogurt (I really only like it with curry or baked potato, ie with savoury foods) this is very unfair on poor L who consumes litres of it weekly. I’ve never really seen the point of the flavoured kind, which has cloying amounts of sugar and ‘fruity’ flavours which rarely resemble fruit in any way.

To compensate, I’ve become very serious in my yogurt making.

Milk – 750ml
Plain yogurt – 3-4 tbsp

There’s no end of advice to be found about what milk to use for your yogurt. In my experience, almost anything will do. I use semi-skimmed fresh milk (1.55% fat content) from the supermarket and the end result is thick and creamy and just fine. Different types alter the consistency and the flavour slightly. Whatever you opt for, the fresher the milk, the better the end result.

More important, I think, is the culture that you start off with. You can begin your yogurt-making career with powdered cultures bought in speciality shops, but this is, in my opinion, an unnecessary gimmick. What you really need is plain yogurt, and to get the culture ball rolling it pays to get a really good one. I started my process with a few tablespoonfuls of excellent cow- and sheep-milk yogurt from Pianporcino in the Val d’Orcia. Of course you can’t gauge from labelling just how many active helpful, milk-thickening, live active bacteria are swirling about in any given yogurt pot but you can bet that the food-industry giants skimp on those like they do on anything that is truly natural and beneficial.

As soon as you’ve made your first successful batch, remember to hold back a little of your yogurt to get the next one going.

Lastly, you need something to make your yogurt in. You can buy dedicated yogurt-making equipment but again – it’s not at all necessary. A glass jar, a towel and a shelf in a warm airing cupboard will do. I’ve opted for a vacuum flask – not the kind for drinks but the kind you can carry hot food about in. Mine holds 3/4 litre of liquid, hence the quantities given above. The important thing is that you create the conditions to keep the fermenting yogurt warm for six hours or more, to give the bacteria time to do their thing.

Heat the milk slowly, preferably in a fairly wide, heavy-bottomed saucepan, until bubbles start forming around the edge. At this point it’s pretty hot but not boiling, and you’ve killed some of the not-so-good bacteria that might fight off the thickening bacteria that you’re about to add (thermometre-obsessives will tell you this is about 82°C.) Then leave it to cool down, until you can rest your little finger in it without feeling scorched (about 45°C).

(My instructions now presume that you’re using a vacuum flask like me. You’ll need to adapt if you’re opting for some other method.)

Remove any skin that may have formed on the warm milk, then ladle out a small amount into the container and beat the starter yogurt into it. Add the rest of the milk and mix it all well. Close the lid, set the flask aside and don’t peek again for another six hours at least. Overnight or 12 hours is better. If conditions are right, the longer you leave it, the more of a bite the yogurt will have.

You should now have beautifully set, creamy yogurt which you can flavour with jam, honey, fresh or cooked fruit… anything really. You can keep your yogurt in the fridge for a week or more, though if you’re using a thermos you’ll need to pour it into another container before transferring it or it may not get cold enough to block the fermentation process properly.

For thicker Greek-style yogurt, line a sieve with a piece of cheesecloth or muslin, pour your fresh yogurt into it and leave it to strain: the longer you leave it, the thicker it will become. (The whey that drips out is rich in proteins and vitamins but low in fat – great for baking and very good, some say, for your skin and hair.)

Now that you have your own yogurt to use as a culture, you’ll need to save a few tablespoons to get your next batch going, so don’t be tempted to eat the lot. Tales of yogurt cultures handed down through generations abound. I’m told that you can freeze yogurt for emergencies (such as some uninformed person polishing off the whole jar while you’re not looking), and unfreeze it to get your culture going again. I have squireled a small pot away in the back of the freezer but have yet to test the theory.

 

 

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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.

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15 May 2018

0515AGaps have opened up in the garden beds along the terrace outside the kitchen: Ceanothus have inexplicably withered; even well mulched Agapanthus liquified in super-cold weather over the winter. I’ve bought these beauties to fill the voids, but when oh when am I going to get them into the ground? I really can’t remember a more dreadful May.

I’m not sure we quite appreciated what a marvellous April we were having: the hottest, I’ve read, on record in these parts. For two whole weeks there was not a drop of rain, and I was reaching for the sun hats and factor 50+. I had even dusted off my water timers, and purchased new batteries to replace the ones I’ve been recharging for who knows how many seasons.

No need now.

Since 1 May we have had just one day without rain. It’s like being in the tropics. Mornings can be sunny – warm too. But by mid-afternoon at the very latest the occasional fierce water-laden gust of wind nearly blows you off balance, signalling that someone, very close by, is getting drenched. And chances are it’s going to hit you next. Though not necessarily.

Driving up from Po’ Bandino down in the valley the other day, the amount of water cutting in diagonal runnels across the road in front of me was almost frightening, especially as at 20kph – which was about as fast as I could go and still see anything at all – you have all the time you need to appreciate them. This was the situation as far as town. On our side of the hill, 500 metres away, not a drop had fallen. Nothing. Things were looking as dry as they could do given the general swampiness of the area at the moment. But a few hours later, the next bomba d’acqua (water bomb) caught us full on. So far this month we’ve had 139mm of rain. (The May average in Umbria is around 77mm – depending where you look.) The forecast for the foreseeable future is more of the same.

The result of all this on my work is dramatic.

On the one hand I have (understandably) frustrated clients moaning “but it’s just a bit of rain, surely you can work in the rain?” Yes, you can work in the rain, of course. But the rain isn’t the problem. What you can’t do is dig and weed and move earth and build walls and lay pipes in ground which is clinging, filthy, unmanageable mud down to a depth of about a metre.

On the other hand I’m juggling several garden contractors who are fending off frustrated customers and me, poor things. Double demands and a terrible quandary: do you just head out knowing that you can do next-to-nothing, just to show willing, but end up wasting time and petrol? Or do you sit on your hands, mulling over the work-avalanche that you know is going to leave you gasping for breath the moment this meteorological nightmare gives way to proper spring – even summer? It’s a logistical nightmare, with no end in sight.

Yesterday, at a project way along a bumpy but more or less passable white road in the Mugello, east of Florence, my gardening squad (adopting the ‘let’s just go along and see if there’s anything at all we can do, every if it’s probably pointless’ philosophy) arrived to find that someone in their wisdom had tried to fill in the potholes by tipping a truckload of soil on the road. Overnight rain had then turned this into axle-deep mud. By the time I arrived, they had skidded their truck to a half about a third of the way up and were busy trying to work out how on earth to reverse it back down and run away home.

My client had us ferried up to the garden in four-wheel drives. The forecast downpours held off until late in the evening. The tools left in the abandoned truck would have been useful, but the men managed to make do with the ancient intruments left about the property. On this occasion, we were lucky: we were still at the pruning and clearing stage – not the mud-making activities – and we got in a day’s work. A rare triumph in a time of defeats. For the planting, though, all we can do is wait.

Desperately clutching at straws, I have found a couple of silver linings in this dire situation.

0515B

Last September I bewailed the effects of an interminably long dry summer on my totally un-irrigated so-called lawn, wondering whether it would ever come back to life. The answer is finally a resounding yes. Sure, I wouldn’t recommend looking too closely at what makes up that marvellous green sward: it’s a fine counter-argument to those spoilsports who condemn lawns as bio-homogenous water-guzzling horrors. But as my mantra goes, if it’s green and (between downpours) you can mow it, it’s a ‘lawn’. For a few lush weeks at least, I will feel like an English gardener.

Unable to rush home from appointments to throw myself into trying to bring some semblance of order into my own waterlogged garden, I’ve treated myself to a couple of nursery visits – places I’ve known about for some time but never dropped by, both of them rose specialists.

I get so infuriated by major vivai (nurseries), the ones who are so full of themselves that when I ask for a variety of a plant that they don’t happen to have they simply peer down their noses at me, barely concealing their contempt for anyone who doesn’t realise that their selection is the ne plus ultra. There’s no concealment at all when I suggest – usually quite peremptorily – that they contact somewhere with a better selection and procure what I want rather than trying to palm me off with something in stock but totally unsuitable.

Which is why I found myself at La Rosa del Borghetto in a most unlikely bit of unspoilt countryside snaking along a narrow arcane-feeling lane unexpectedly near to the centre of Perugia. On that occasion I was looking for climbers for a client – nothing particularly exotic or recherché… just some things that larger suppliers didn’t deign to stock. A delightful source of wonderful plants sold by people with a passion.

It was en route to my Mugello appointment that I noticed that I was speeding past MondoRose, the well constructed website of which is my go-to place when looking for inspiration and guidance in the choice of roses. It’s a kind of bible. But I don’t think I had ever really looked at the address of the nursery, and if I had, I don’t think I would have been able to say where Sieci was. Now I know.

Ambling up and down the rows of lovingly kept plants (they specialise both in old varieties and in David Austin creations) I just wanted to take them all. Instead I limited myself to another R. Munstead Wood, a few beautifully scented R. Yolande d’Aragon – an old variety I wasn’t familiar with but which is a glorious full musty pink – and some dark blue ornamental sages. Now – as I was saying – all I need is a long enough break in this weather to get them into the ground.

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30 April 2018

The manna ash trees have gone beserk. It took me a while to work out what it was. As I zipped round the countryside – something I’ve been doing a lot of lately – I was mesmerised by great clouds of creamy white all over the hillsides, pushing the bright new foliage of the oak forests out of the limelight. It couldn’t be Prunus spinosa (blackthorn) or any of those other outcrops of wild fruit – they just don’t grow tall enough to crest the oaks.

It took me a while to realise that the answer was staring me in the face, in my own home carpark. My crooked little Fraxinus ornus was swathed in an abundance of flower the like of which I’d never seen before.

It’s a pretty tree – comfortingly familiar rather than showy (usually). And it’s the inconspicuous (usually) co-occurring side-kick to the Quercus pubescens (Downy oak) which dominates forests at our altitudes and latitudes. But this year, as I said, the ashes have exploded, and are making sure they’re noticed. Who knew there were so many of them out there?

What I can’t reconstruct in my head, though, is which of them was in leaf first. I should pay more attention because it is, of course, vital.

Phenology (the study of seasonal change in relation to plant and animal life – a new word for me) tells us that, in the UK at least, the ash used to beat the oak regularly  at getting leaves on until less than 100 years ago. Now with rising spring temperatures (we’ve had the hottest April on record here), the faster-reacting oak gets there first every year.

Ash before oak, we’re in for a soak; oak before ash, just a quick dash. (I’ve found an Irish alterative to this familiar bit of rain-forecasting doggerel which says ‘ash before oak, there’ll be smoke [ie it’ll be hot]; oak before ash, there’ll be a smash [high winds]’ – the Irish varying it, presumably, because persistant drizzle is a given.) I’m pretty sure that oak and ash were edging their way out more or less simultaneously here this year. What does that imply for the summer to come?

The rhyme, I’m reading, isn’t a great crystal ball: for all their folksy wisdom our ancients were probably pretty dire at meteorological predictions. In fact, it tells you more about the weather of the preceeding few months – and squelchy, icy late winter was clearly what the ash needed to produce the glories it’s now regaling us with.

It’s tempting, though, to blame this ash activity for the forecast for the foreseeable future. After a couple of glorious weeks being spoilt by temperatures well above the average and days of piercing blue, our forecast has turned abysmal, with biblical downpours and shivery temperatures from tomorrow. Please, let it be as unreliable as the ancients.

0430A

In our tiny supermarket the other day, old ladies were lingering more than usual around the checkout. They were taking it in turns to hug the lovely Madonna-faced girl on the till. She’s going away, they wailed to each other. You will come back and see us, won’t you? You won’t just disappear?

She was all quiet sweetness and put the ladies’ fears to rest with a calm smile and a gentle word – so calm and gentle that a tear or two rolled down old faces.

When they had kissed her and stroked her and toddled off, I asked where she was going. Australia? The ends of the earth?

Siena, she said. I’ve decided to go back to university. Fantastic I said. Yes, she said, I’ll be back every weekend.

It’s 91km from here to there – less than an hour and a half in the car. But if it’s robbing them of their favourite supermarket girl, Siena might as well be the end of the world for the ladies.

0430G

I have been trying to be good with my asparagus. I only planted it last spring, and managed to force myself to forget it then in order to spare the spears and strengthen the roots.

This year, the experts say, I can take… well, it depends whom you read. The RHS says none at all, others say 50 percent, others anything in between. I think I was good: I don’t think I took more than half of the first crop.

Moreover I weeded the whole long asparagus bed very thoroughly, and nerve-racking work it is. With each tug at an infestante and each gentle prod with my trowel I fully expected to sever one of the precious concealed snub-nosed sprouts. Tip-toeing about, I don’t think I did too much damage.

My novelty crop for this year is strawberries. Not that I didn’t have strawberries already – some large ones in a totally unsuitable place by the carpark where I rarely even find them until after the lizards and other creatures have nibbled them half away; and innumerable wild ones once planted in small quantities outside the kitchen but since eaten by birds with seeds deposited everywhere imaginable. They pop up all over the garden.

But these new ones, I decided, would be far more scientific: planted near the asparagus through very unbecoming white fleece to keep them clean, I would finally get myself a good crop of large strawberries. I might even make jam.

Well, what I now have seems to be a medium crop of strawberries that really don’t taste of much. Am I going to have to start over yet again?

0430F

Some weeks ago at an event organised by the great niece (?) of a famous British novelist, I met the granddaughter of a marvelous Swedish writer. This latter later contacted me and asked me to help restore her utterly lovely garden, which I’m doing with great joy.

At her beautiful home, I met the grandson of a great Italian philosopher.

I find it wonderful, moving and utterly charming that in a very down to earth, close-knit way the shadow of an intellectual social crowd of such a different age lives on in quietly beautiful places through descendents who still recognise something in each other.

0430E

The other evening as I watered the orto, a nightingale started his glorious song very very close to me. There he was, perched on one of the straggly little oaks just beyond the orto, along the edge of Mario’s field. I cooed at him and thanked him for his song; he gurgled and trilled and paid no notice of me at all, naturally. I was wrapt and thrilled – and quite glad that no one was there to witness me in my over-emotional state. But I don’t think I’d ever knowingly been serenaded by a very visible nightingale before.

Which, now I come to think of it, rather answers my question about which came first. I could see the bird because the oak’s branches were bare. I’m pretty sure that the manna ash was already in its flowery leafy prime by then. Oh dear.

0430D

 

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7 April 2018

0407E

On Thursday evening I pulled weeds from the garden beds outside the kitchen until 8pm. What a treat. I felt privileged. Never has a winter felt so long. Except as always, I expect that it has but we forget. Anyway. We’ve had quite enough cold and damp. Now we want spring.

Other milestones. Late last night as I pulled the shutters closed, I heard a nightingale. In fact it may have been more than one. It was certainly the first. And yesterday for lunch we ate our first asparagus spear. Just one very large one (there were other things to eat as well, obviously). I told L he should be approaching it reverently. ‘What, with a dog collar?’ he said. I’m not convinced he appreciated it as much as he should have.

0407F

Italy’s elections have come and gone, and I’m happy to say that CdP remains red. Well, pink, and a pale shade at that. 36.7% for the centre-left; 29% for the centre-right. (Where did the other votes go? Boh.) But I’ve reacted to the national debacle by (1) trying to ignore all the government-formation shenanigans utterly and (2) joining the Partito democratico (PD). There’s nothing so invigorating as hopping on a sinking ship when all the traffic’s in the other direction.

The PD HQ is a cold stark room above the post office. Portraits of Gramsci and Togliatti and Che Guevara and some other bloke I couldn’t identify watch over proceedings. Away in a corner I spotted a black and white photo of Enrico Berlinguer.

At my first meeting of the compagni, perched on a shaky chair rather too close for comfort to a heater of a type I thought had been done away with in about 1958, I listened to men shouting. Perhaps I’m not being fair, but having always lived with people for whom shouting just wasn’t a thing, I tend to presume that the onset of shouting means that the ability to reason has gone out the window. And I stop listening to the words. But there is something quite fascinating about the Italian capacity for shouting so loud when, basically, everyone’s on the same side. It’s like football arguments among old men in parks: you presume that they must all be fans of opposing teams, until it dawns on you that they’re comrades in arms. But still they yell.

The upshot of the shouting (once it had stopped focussing on national issues which you might have thought they were solely responsible for salvaging) was that the PD needs to be better at listening to the problems of the populace. But everyone seemed to reach the conclusion in a vacuum. Because despite the volume they clearly weren’t hearing each other. Which explains a lot about the predicament of Italy’s centre-left.

0407C

Last year’s Buddha’s birthday fest – as pleasant as it was improbable in this small Umbrian town – was a low-key affair but not so under-the-radar that the town council didn’t notice.

Our town council is a wonder, providing us with a remarkable array of shows and displays and happenings throughout the year, all on a budget which should barely cover a couple of nights of Christmas lights. The secret lies in their generosity with municipally owned spaces. They are impressively swift at latching on to anything 100% organised by someone else, costing the council little or nothing: then they will provide a venue gratis, just so long as they don’t have to shell out a euro (which explains some of the less-than-illustrious productions thrown at us).

And so the council has bumped Buddha’s birthday up the CdP top hits chart, elevating its venue from the far-off piazza way down in front of the schools to a closed-off section of the hugely more central street that runs along beside the football pitch, to be provided free to the Sri Lankan community for two whole nights.

‘But they’re not giving us any money,’ wailed my garden helper Indi – the prime mover of the event – when he reappeared abruptly here after a disappearance that had lasted weeks and weeks. ‘Two nights feeding people. How are we going to find enough vegetables?’

This may have been a cry for donations but I, like the town council, turned a deaf ear. I explained, though, about the very laudable Italian law which since 2016 has banned supermarkets from chucking away perfectly good food that has passed its sell-by date. I hope they’ll be big-hearted enough to help out.

0407D

For the first time ever, I’m accumulating clients in CdP which has the advantage of having my work on my doorstep rather than a long long motorway slog away, but the disadvantage that I spend inordinate amounts of minutes (cumulatively hours, of course) here and there just ‘popping in’, rather than well planned stretches of concerted work at rare and strictly necessary intervals.

For one of these new clients I was enquiring quite how soundly he could legally fence in his property to keep boars from devastating his grass, and his fruit and olive trees. The answer, I found out, was hardly at all, except with electric fences that are totally movable. This is because our wild wild valley (he’s just on the other side) is not, as I had previously thought, hedged about with planning restrictions just because of some old local regs, but because it’s an SCI (Site of Community Interest) – a kind of wildlife super-highway set up under the EU’s Natura 2000 accord. Who knew?

Confirmation that it works as a wildlife corridor came from the Corpo Forestale when one of their officers went around to decide which (small) bits of wood my client could fell and which had to be left intact. When he heard that the landowner was planning to dispense with grass-cutting and run some sheep under his fruit trees (not really a great idea, as I reckon sheep in their milder way could probably, in the long term, do as much damage as rampaging boars) the officer was perturbed.

‘No! No! All sheep will do is attract wolves and bring them even closer to populated areas,’ he warned.

Now, everyone knows that there are wolves about. A friend on the Tuscan side of the valley was playing with his new toy – a night-vision camera – and surprised himself by catching one on video. But despite knowing that they’re perfectly safe, that if they see you they’ll just run away, that they don’t attack humans (unless, I presume, they’re very very hungry…) you still don’t necessarily like the idea that at night time they’re strolling beneath your apple trees. It’s difficult to shake the niggling Big Bad Wolf terror.

0407H

Easter was a rushed affair. I had set myself that weekend as the absolute limit for installing the long-promised kitchenettes at Pieve Suites. All I needed was for the plumber to come by and swiftly attach the three sinks to the ready-to-roll water outlets/wastewater pipe. Simple. Ha!

With guests expected mid-afternoon on Good Friday, the plumbing boys finally turned up on Thursday about four (for which, I should say, I was grateful because I know other people who were just as desperate as I was whom they never managed to reach). Naturally the holes in the kitchen tops were just slightly too small for the sinks once their clamps were attached. And one of the stoppers that these same plumbers had attached to the water pipes months ago simply wouldn’t budge. At all. Not a millimetre. Panic.

On Friday morning I dragged my carpenter boy from his sick bed to enlarge the holes. And my painstakingly assembled top-floor kitchen had to be unceremoniously taken (partly) to pieces in a final desperate attempt to loosen the stopper. That worked. Phew. Panic over.

Well, that panic over anyway, because in the process of resolving that little hiccup, my beautifully cleaned-and-polished house had been well and truly trashed. Back to hoovering and dusting, right up to the moment when the doorbell rang and guests arrived: the definition of the nick of time. Is this what the rental accommodation business is like?

0407B

On a sunny morning (because there have been sunny mornings) last week I stopped at the vegetable stall in the square by the war memorial where Pasquale the fruit man was deep in conversation with a kindly looking old lady, lamenting the youth of today and how they take everything for granted and how they don’t know how lucky they are and all they want is booze and drugs etc etc ad nauseam. (All this a proposito di a 21-year-old found dead at the bottom of a cliff in Positano, 24 hours after going out clubbing.)

I stood and listened and didn’t say a word, until Pasquale – who knows that I’m not usually slow to voice my opinion – started to look a bit nervous. ‘Eh, Anne, what do you think about this?’

Well, I told them, perhaps I’m odd but I know so many fantastic, creative, inventive, committed, intelligent, hard-working, dedicated (and all the other adjectives I could think of) young people, I kind of feel that the ones who aren’t that way are complete anomalies.

By the end of my diatribe Pasquale and the signora were helping me along, nodding in agreement, reaching for ever more enthusiastic adjectives, singing the praises of our wondrous young people.

Driving to Perugia this morning, I heard an expert telling his radio audience that an estimated six percent of young Italian females and 21% (or thereabouts) of young Italian males – interesting disparity – have a problem with drink and/or drugs. Yet of course they are the only ones people talk about. Perhaps more people need to focus on the majority, not the out-of whack minority.

0407A

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