I always argue that if your garden is making you miserable, you’re doing something wrong. It’s messy? It’s overgrown? It’s just not how you want it? No worries! (Almost) everything can be rectified with time and patience. In the mean time calm down and enjoy it… you’re probably the only person who notices the displeasing disorder anyway.
But driving down our lane after an unexpected eight days in the UK, which followed on the heels of an intense work period coupled with rainy weekends that meant my garden had remained totally untouched for several weeks, I have to admit that even my heart sank. When I find that the knee-high weeds scraping the car’s undercarriage as I make my way down the drive occupy my mind far more than the glorious tangle of late-summer blooms in the garden beds, I really start to worry.
Long ago in a Sunday supplement in a UK paper I skimmed through an article in which some supposedly not-appearance-obsessed journo was sent on a series of beauty treatments, most of which she declared very nice thank you but she wouldn’t be bothering with most of them ever again. (I remember this because the accompanying before-and-after photos suggested that perhaps she took more care of herself habitually than the article let on.) Asked if there was one treatment which had made her feel instantly more elegant she replied “the eyebrow tweak”: it made her face seem looked-after by drawing attention away from the neglect elsewhere.
So, I ask myself, what’s the garden eyebrow-tweak equivalent? For me, it is lawns. Ok, on this particular occasion I began with a quick sweep down the drive with the strimmer (weedwhacker). That removed the main angst catalyst. But it was only when I found a couple of hours before the weekend downpours to whizz around the lawns with my trusty mower that the whole place took on a finely curated look. The flower beds are full of weeds? But look at those lawns! (Though please don’t look too closely at those lawns which are in fact weedy collections of rough field grass hacked into a semblance of sward.) There’s harmony and unity and a definite (though utterly deceptive) air of things being minutely cared for.
Autumn is here. Gosh, is autumn here. Not the colours as yet: we’ll have to wait a bit for those. But the meteorological conditions, certainly. I returned from the UK last week to skies of limpid blue and temps rising to a lovely mid-20s during the day. But it was that kind of weather when you can easily be tricked into venturing out into the nippy morning in clothes sufficiently heavy to leave you sweating through the middle of the day, until the cool of evening brings relief. It’s all very confusing.
I received a full blast of “non ci sono più le mezze stagioni” (we no longer have mid-seasons) taxi-driver wisdom the whole way from Chiusi station up to CdP on my return. But both this temperature range and my wardrobe tell me otherwise. If this isn’t mid-season, what is? I have clothes for heat. And I have clothes for cold. During these weeks in between I’m often to be found, floored, peering into my wardrobe in mild despair. I simply have nothing to wear.
The clear blue crisp that the tramontana (north) wind sweeps in has now given way to something sticky and southerly: there’s rain in abundance, which kind of makes you forget that it’s relatively warm out there. Also, it makes the drawing-in evenings seem even shorter – something that fills me with dread. Winter is around the corner. My panic mounts.
Last Sunday morning we voted – for all the good it did (though CdP voted left… just). We’ve voted in local and European elections, which was possible as Brits before the UK committed Brexit-harikiri. But it wasn’t enough for us, especially as our right to vote in the UK had been withdrawn after 15 years out of the country. It was this disenfranchisement which prompted us to submit our Italian citizenship requests: at the time Brexit wasn’t even on the cards. The timing was, however, fortuitous: round about the period we might have been applying were we Brexit-driven was when requirements were toughened and timescales extended hugely by the execrable Legge Salvini.
So this was the first time since becoming Italian citizens (me in 2018, L in 2019) that we’d had a say in who runs the country. It was really quite moving.
The scene was very jolly, like a Sunday morning in CdP’s cafés, transported to the corridors of a local high school. The boy from the Old Man Bar was checking ID and handing out ballot sheets. About a third of people in the queue to vote were friends or acquaintances: there was much banter and analysis though not really of the political situation – it seemed a bit late for that.
Outside in the carkpark representatives of the factions were standing in little huddles, keeping an eye on the proceedings, in a “why am I doing this?” kind of way. Carabinieri had donned their special-occasion uniforms and were striding about importantly, without giving the least hint that they thought they would really be needed.
As lunchtime approached (I was across the road, filling my bottles with sparkling water from the town water dispenser by this time) they all dispersed: clearly the call had arrived to say the pasta was about to be tipped into the pot. You have to have priorities.
And the UK? Oh, what a sad place! We were there for a family emergency, just as the royal family were living out their family loss. This meant nothing to us. I suspected, too, that it didn’t mean all that much – or at least not nearly as much as the media would like to make out – to many many people. In central Chichester, the tributes to Her late Majesty seemed to consist mainly of a few limp bunches of supermarket flowers on the steps of the Market Cross. Plus a general feeling that another day’s holiday is always welcome. Or perhaps I’m reading my own feelings into things.
Anyway it impinged not a whit on our consciences as we juggled family stuff and cleaning out an elderly relative’s unspeakably dirty house. To cope with the strain L came up with one of his Great Ideas: a very particular place to stay.
A pair of swans sailed up to welcome us to this tiny sleeping quarters on a floating platform among the yachts in Thorney Island. (Then they left in disgust and never reappeared once they realised we had no intention of sharing our food with them.) There were some yachty types coming and going, and dozens of walkers in the distance, stomping along the path which goes all around the military base which occupies most of the so-called island (it’s a peninsula really).
From our little wooden deck we watched as the tide rose then fell to expose endless mud, all tinted by sunsets and moon rises, and disturbed by busy sea birds.