Monday 29 February 2016

Grey and wet

What do you do on a grey and wet weekend on a hill in Tuscany? Take the rare opportunity to shut out the outside world, hunker down and rest up in front of a fire with a glass of wine, a book and some movies? No, you're right, that's not what we did this weekend.

As forecast, the rain started coming down on Saturday morning, but we managed to get out with Reggie before it really came down in earnest. This morning, in a change to our normal weekend routine, we stopped for our pre-walk cappuccino at the Bistro in Vellano, before heading on up to the cava track above the village. As usual, Reggie charged around in the woods, terrorised the water babbling in the stream and splashed happily through the mud, and by the time we got back to the car he seemed thoroughly exercised.

On getting home, the first task of the day was to move the washing machine from the office into its new home in the utility room. During the week the plumber had changed all the pipework around, cutting and capping off the old pipe that fed into the office (which was once the kitchen), which meant that the washing machine would no longer work in its original place in the office anyway, so now - with 3 loads of washing waiting to be done - seemed as good a time as any to move it into its new home. After moving the machine, we filled it with washing, plugged it in, switched it on and held our breath. Thankfully we soon heard the reassuring whooshing sound of water entering the drum and before long it was well into its wash cycle.

The next job was to get the dishwasher up and running - but with our standard 3kW electricity supply, we knew we would have to wait until the washing machine had finished until we could get the dishwasher on. Thankfully the washing machine's 40C cycle is only 60 minutes long, so we didn't have too long to wait until we could plug the dishwasher in, fill it with the required salt and rinse aid and give it its very first run-through. As per the manufacturer's recommendation, we ran it through with nothing in initially - and while it was somewhat frustrating to know that nothing was actually being washed, the gentle purr of the machine in action was music to our ears, and no sooner had it completed its first ever wash than we had crammed it full of breakfast bowls, lunch plates, coffee cups and a few pans and set it going again. I think it's going to be a while before the novelty of having a dishwasher wears off - it's a luxury that we really appreciate.

After our lunch, with the rain really hammering down by now, Stuart was all geared up to spend the afternoon doing his favourite thing: organising. I reluctantly agreed and we spent the afternoon clearing out cupboards, staining the spice storage cupboard that Stuart had started making yesterday, putting up a new shelf and a range of other such tasks which seemed to create far more mess, noise and puzzles (where to re-house items) than they were designed to solve. I have to admit that by the end of the day, once all the DIY-related mess had been cleared away and the room put back together again, I did feel pleased with the work we'd done, and I could see definite improvements, although it was a step too far to say that I had actually enjoyed the afternoon's activities.

Saturday evening was an altogether more enjoyable affair: we headed up the hill in the rain to Vellano where we met David, Sarah and Donatella at the Circolo (the village club) for dinner. Despite all of us having heard great things about the food served at the circolo, none of us had ever tried eating there, and since the Bistrot was full, tonight was the night to give it a try. We weren't quite sure what to expect when we walked in - it seems rather like a working men's club at first, but once through the second door we found ourselves in a busy little bar area packed full of people of all ages all busily enjoying their Saturday evening with food, drink, family and friends and the TV blaring in the corner. The others were just sitting down as we arrived, and it wasn't long before the cheery waiter-come-barman was at our table and we were being asked what we wanted to eat.

Clearly pizza was the thing to have here, but without a menu, we were left to 'freestyle' with our choices of what sort of pizza to have. Sarah impressively reeled off her selection of toppings for her pizza, leaving Stuart and me feeling rather panic stricken. In the end, Donatella had one of the circolo's house specialities, Stuart and I both opted for a safe Napolitana, and David free-styled his own pizza. The next time we go for pizza at the circolo I will definitely be giving pizza toppings some thought beforehand!

We ate an incredible spread of antipasti including cured meats, crostini with three different toppings, pickled onions, grilled vegetables, beans with red onions, and of course plenty of bread and oil. After that came the pizzas, which really were as good as we'd been told they were. We washed it all down with wine and followed it with tiramisu, coffee and limoncello - a real blowout meal (we could barely move at the end of it all) for the princely sum of €15 per head.

The atmosphere in the circolo was busy, noisy, bustling and very friendly. The TV blaring in the corner was a bit of a distraction, particularly when there was a change in the programme and all of a sudden we found ourselves in front of Top Gear dubbed into Italian. I have to admit to having been rather transfixed by the idea of Jeremy Clarkson being dubbed into Italian. Bizarre doesn't even begin to describe it.

TV-watching aside, we had a great evening catching up with our friends and all agreed that we would be making a point to come back to the circolo again in the future for more of the same.

We left Vellano feeling extremely full and tired, rolled down the hill to the house and headed straight for bed.

There was more rain during the night, and of course it was still wet in the morning. Undeterred by the rain (the great advantage of going out when it's raining is that we're far less likely to meet other people/dogs/joggers/cyclists when we're out), we put Reggie in the car and headed first to Cafe Delice for a much needed coffee and a breakfast croissant before continuing on to the 'chicken run' walk.With the exception of a pair of joggers who we met almost as soon as we got up onto the river bank, the walk was quiet and uneventful. It was a little on the damp side, but we had an umbrella and Reggie clearly didn't mind at all.

As usual for a Sunday, we came back from our walk via Amanda's shop in order to buy something for lunch and to collect our homework from Samantha - and Samantha took the opportunity to go to the car with a nice hunk of bread for Reggie, which he seemed very pleased with.

We had an early lunch: seafood salad for me, and a spinach and cuttlefish stew for Stuart, both accompanied by roast potatoes, and after a post-lunch shot of caffeine, it was back down to work for us both.

With the rain still putting paid to any outdoor work, it was back to more organising indoors today (this must count among Stuart's all-time favourite weekends...). While Stuart put the finishing touches to the spice cupboard, I decided to tackle the grout in the bathroom tiles. Having tried to clean it up a bit a while ago, I decided that today would be a good time to try a different tactic and apply some grout whitener, and so I did. The result was pleasing, and although I was disappointed to find that it didn't magically transform the entire bathroom into a luxurious haven, the tiles definitely look better.

Grout whitened, I went back downstairs to join Stuart in organising the spice cupboard (emptying one of the cupboards above the sink) so that we could move the saucepans into the cupboard, find new homes for various items, be ruthless and throw a few things out, and inch a little bit closer to having a clutter-free (clutter-free? who am I kidding? less cluttered...) home.

Wheeled storage.

These (which have been on top of our kitchen cupboards for 18 months) are NOT made from frosted glass...

The reality of living in a wood-fire-heated farmhouse.

I was relieved that this afternoon's tidying and organising only went on until about 4.30pm, at which point we decided it really was time to light the fire and settle down to a relaxing afternoon/evening with a glass of wine and a bowl of hot spiced nuts - my personal proudest accomplishment of the weekend has been the invention of a new range of home-made snacks in the form of hot spiced nuts. So far I've tried mixing the hot toasted nuts with garlic & salt, with chilli & salt and with a cumin and coriander mix - we're finding it hard to pick a favourite.

Hot toasted nuts with salt & garlic.

Hot toasted nuts with salt & chilli (L); hot toasted nuts with salt, cumin & coriander (R).

A productive weekend all in all, if a little damper than we would have liked.

Sunday 28 February 2016

Plumbing progress(/disruption)


Looking at the weather forecast for the week, we could see that today, Monday, was set to be the only dry day of the week. I'm sure we must be heading towards some form of wet winter record considering the rainfall we've had here since Christmas. However, I've no doubt that my cunning plan to stop the rains will work without fail and the moment I direct the rainwater into our collection tanks in a week or two the sunshine will come, and along with it weeks of dry weather...

Despite the dry forecast for the day though, I had something of a full schedule.

Donatella had very kindly offered to come along with me to Colidretti, the local agricultural association, to help me finally get to the bottom of the rules, regulations and tax laws that apply now that I have registered for an agricultural tax code - and we had an appointment there at midday.

Before that though, I had told our guest, Laura, that I would drop her and her luggage to the train station so that she could finish her Italian adventure with a stop in Pisa before flying home, so at 09:30 I loaded both Laura and her bag into the car and headed down the valley.

After helping her with the purchase of a ticket and sending her on her way I headed to Maionchi - the place from which we'd bought the tractor (and strimmers) to retrieve my agricultural tax certificate. It felt as if I'd barely had the certificate in my hands more than a few minutes before handing it over to the guys at Maionchi so that they could complete the change of ownership documents for the tractor.

With documents in hand, I refuelled the car then headed home after picking up another stack of 50 plant pots for seed planting.

Shortly after getting home and sinking a coffee, Donatella arrived which pleased Reggie hugely, especially as she did so with a tennis ball for him to play with.

She had brought her chainsaw with her for sharpening, so with another coffee we dismantled the saw and put a nice sharp edge onto the chain's teeth before reassembling it and loading it back into her car then heading into Pescia.

After a short wait at Coldiretti were called into an office upstairs where we were met by two women, both of whom remembered me from my various other visits, and we soon settled into an hour-long discussion about the whys and wherefores of the agricultural tax scheme.

It was a detailed conversation that I won't bore you with, suffice to say that I felt very pleased when we left - I don't need to de-register, but I do need to present myself there along with my associated receipts and invoices every March, and I will need to pay the sum of €25 for them to apply my spending and sales to my tax code. It all seems too easy! It seems that Italy heavily supports small agricultural enterprises (of which we are now one, albeit one with little produce to speak of at the moment).

After a stop off in Esselunga we headed back to Numero 182, we cross-loaded Donatella's shopping into her car and she headed home.

After lunch, Helen and I loaded Reggie into the car to take him for a walk. We were planning to go to the Phillips household after our walk to make use of their landline (and hopefully even one of their Italian-fluent sons) to call the electricity board to ask whether they would come and cut down the last of the tricky 3-4 trees (which are intertwined with the electricity wires) down for us.

However, on finishing the walk we received a message from Chris, welcoming us to go up but warning us that the house was suffering from a particularly bad flu epidemic - so we opted to avoid them and instead headed home.

It was 5pm by now and whereas a few weeks back we'd be calling it a day due to fading light, there was still plenty of daylight left and so we went outside to work for an hour, Helen splitting wood and me taking the tractor up to the end of the driveway to collect the last of the acacia that was lying on the ground having been felled by the winds of last March - finally the tractor was going to get to test its metal and see if it was fit for purpose!

With flying colours (or red, at least) the tractor and I made a couple of trips along the driveway with the chainsaw and I loaded another hefty pile of wood to the car park ready for logging and splitting.


Tuesday was a Big Day as far as our new hot water system was concerned: Anton, the plumber, had said he would arrive to make a start with Angelo, the builder. Not only that, but our new dishwasher was due to be delivered, which felt like a landmark event in itself.

Sure enough, as I was finishing my breakfast Anton pulled up in his van and headed into the shed with two rolls of tubing and a heap of tools. Reggie was not best pleased at his arrival and kept trying to escape the house to terrorise Anton - who would rather the dog wasn't here, as he is clearly a little afraid of dogs, or at least of Reggie.

After battling with Reggie for a while and finally getting him to settle on the sofa, all went pear-shaped when Angelo arrived and tried to come into the house with a huge drill to start making holes in these old stone walls of ours. This was a step too far for poor Reggie, who lost his mind at this point so we had to resort to putting him in the boot of the car for the rest of the morning so the guys could crack on.

I spent the rest of the morning chasing around after the plumbers, fetching stuff and slowly emptying the shed compartments the further along they got. It soon became clear that any hopes of of taking Reggie out of the way for a walk would be dashed, although on the plus side we had the 300-litre tank plumbed in and hooked up to the control kit and it had all been done very tidily, albeit a little close to the new cat exit hole - it was bound to happen, but worry not, Florence has tested the escape route and all is well despite her rather saggy nether regions.

As promised, a courier arrived a little before midday with the dishwasher. With both Anton and Angelo and their respective cars here, I had to go to the end of the drive in the car to collect the dishwasher from the courier, but the fact that it was here was enough for us! We also had a surprise delivery by courier this afternoon. We couldn't think of anything we were expecting, and when we opened up the box we found an amazing array of goodies including colouring books, artists pens, amazing scented candles and the most delicious chocolates - all sent to us by our incredibly thoughtful friend Jeannette, all the way from Seattle. I think the parcel arrived just in time to stop Helen from either having a nervous breakdown or leaving home thanks to the level of noise and disruption being created by the plumbers!


A sudden change in weather was forecast for Wednesday - a dry day, albeit a brief window in the otherwise decidedly English weather, which meant a quick change of plan.

It seemed like a great opportunity to paint rainwater collection tanks 4,5 and 6, and while they were drying to set some roof tiles on the newly repointed wall behind them.

David had offered to lend a hand again this week for a couple of hours, so he charged down the hill to join me in the glorious dry weather.

After a quick coffee we dragged the last three tanks onto the car park area, extracted the plastic tanks from their cages, set up a 'spray booth' and got to work turning white into black with the aid of nine cans of spray paint.

An hour and a half later, and with sore fingertips from spraying (we have a new-found respect for Banksy and his sort), we had all three tanks painted with two cans of paint to spare so after unloading the 24 aged roof tiles out of the car, Dave and I went indoors for a pre-lunch beer.

After a beer, David left us to our lunch, after which Helen went back to work and I headed out to walk Reggie - who desperately needed to get some tension out of his system after the plumber-induced stresses of yesterday, which he did along the river out at the chicken run.

After getting Reggie home and indoors, Helen and I headed out for an hour or so of work. While Helen split some more logs, I set those 24 roof tiles with a bucket full of mortar.

As the sun dipped we headed indoors to light the fire for the evening and to make dinner while we talked over the prospect of another day of doing battle with the plumbers and the dog - not a happy prospect and far from conducive to work for poor Helen, who is really suffering in this equation, possibly even more so than Reggie.


After a plumberless day yesterday, Anton was back again after breakfast, this time with his Dad in tow to help out. Needless to say, Reggie was back in the boot of the car quite soon after and that's where he had to stay for the morning - it was going to be a long day!

I was now left twiddling my thumbs - I can't get on with much myself until all the plumbing work is finished as not only will I be in the way, but Anton hasn't yet reached the point where he has stopped making holes and mess all over the place, so it will be a while before I can start repairing walls and plasterwork.

After some thought, I decided to take the opportunity of a dog-free house to empty the kitchen sideboard so that I could add wheels to the bottom of it instead of it being raised on temporary blocks of wood.

The wheels will give us the flexibility to create a little extra space when we have visitors here and sitting at the table - it's a tight squeeze in this multi-function room of ours and we have to make the most of every inch. Making the room more flexible with furniture that moves feels like a small but beneficial step - besides which, in the the spirit of re-purposing, I had four heavy-duty castor wheels with brakes on that once provided me with a moveable spot board for when I was plastering on my stilts (a pre-Italian adventure activity), which have been sitting outside in all weathers for months feeling unloved and without a purpose.

With the help of my beautiful assistant, we laid the sideboard down on its side so that I could fit the wheels. I'm not sure what exactly this sideboard of ours is made from, but I suspect it is dark matter, or something from the beginning of the universe itself, it's so impossibly dense and weighty. It also smelled of chocolate when I drilled holes into the feet for the screws - I'm not sure what that means in terms of identification, but that's all I can tell you.

Before lunchtime arrived I had returned the chaos back into an ordered, functioning kitchen, albeit with a worktop/sideboard that is now an inch taller due to the wheels, which isn't going to be an issue for either Helen or me (in fact, it led me to wonder exactly who decided that all worktops should be 600mm high? What person was used to gauge this universal measurement? I've decided after today that it wasn't someone around the 6ft mark!).

After lunch, I decided after much deliberation that while the plumber and his Dad were out at lunch I would dash out to get some materials so that I could build a new spice cupboard (something way down on my list of things to do but about the only thing I could turn my hands to with the weather today and the plumbers in the house).

It wasn't long after arriving at OBI in Montecatini that Helen called with a backing track of 'angry, barky dog', saying that Anton had come back and now needed to be in the house rather than out in the shed, and Reggie of course was having none of it. I needed to get back quickly with the mobile dog kennel!

I got home to find Reggie with Helen and Samantha all in the apartment waiting to start the weekly Italian lesson with Reggie flitting between chewing a bone and barking at Anton, who he could hear making noise upstairs.

Well you can guess where poor Reggie ended up! I think he probably hates plumbers more than anything else in the world - I think maybe Helen feels the same, although as Anton spent the last half hour of his workday here on his hands and knees plumbing in the dishwasher for us, that could well turn things around as far as Helen is concerned.


After breakfast on Friday I had a message from David asking if he could give me a hand stacking rainwater tanks 4, 5 and 6 on top of tanks 1, 2 and 3 before the day's forecast rain arrived. Of course I jumped at the offer and responded with an emphatic 'yes!', after which it was boots on and outside to get the lower tanks ready by sealing the screw-top lids with silicone and then fitting a metre or so of pipe into the newly fitted elbows on the rear to allow air out.

With the lids on I hopped on top of the tanks to fit the first section of pipe, only to find that after almost a week the silicone hadn't set on the elbow joints I'd fitted. There was clearly a problem with it related to being left in unfavourable conditions over the winter.

I messaged Dave as quickly as I could in the hope of catching him before he left home, but to no avail, and he was soon here ready for lifting. However, no lifting was going to happen today, as I'd now unscrewed the lids (in case they dried) and would have to leave it like this until I could get a new tube of silicone. Instead, I suggested we take Reggie out for a walk, so after a quick coffee Dave and I headed in convoy back up the valley for a walk at the quarry.

After the walk, Reggie and I headed home for lunch. I was quite relieved to find there was no sign of Anton today - as much as it would be nice to get the work done as quickly as possible, I think a solid week of Anton being here would force Reggie to pack his bags and leave home (after having destroyed the car from the inside out), and quite possibly Helen as well.

After lunch, Helen went back to work and I took the chance to dash off to OBI for some bits of wood to build the spice rack/cupboard that I'd been planning for a while. The plan for the cupboard is that it will slide (on wheels) into the dead space alongside the fridge, thus freeing up some cupboard space.

After making three separate visits into the shop (they don't do trolleys big enough for what I needed and without an extra pair of hands I had no other choice than to keep going back in again) I headed home, leaving some very dark clouds behind me in the rear view mirror.

After a little while messing around indoors it was clear those clouds were headed off in a different direction and there were even a few faint glimpses of sunshine, so I headed outside to make a start on the cupboard.

An hour and a half later I'd all but got it finished, save for some dowelling bars across the front of each shelf to hold items in place.

Feeling very accomplished I headed indoors to find Helen having finished work and getting ready to head into Pescia with me to do the food shopping for the weekend. The supermarket is certainly a little busier on a Friday evening than in our usual Saturday lunchtime slot, but we think the sacrifice is worth it to free up the weekend for more fun tasks. Time will tell if the new habit will stick though!

With the shopping done, unloaded and put away, we were finally ready to sit down and start the weekend.

Monday 22 February 2016

A dry one

Friday night took us by surprise - we were sitting on the sofa watching TV when we saw a flash of light. We literally looked at each other and asked 'what was that?'. It really doesn't take a genius to work it out, but with the day having been clear and bright, and a sunny day forecast for the next day, the possibility of thunder and lightning didn't even occur to us and we were genuinely puzzled - until we heard a low rumbling noise shortly afterwards. It wasn't long before rain was hammering on our sky light, and we went to bed to the sound of clattering rain and thunder. Thankfully the storm didn't last more than an hour or so, and by the time morning broke the clouds were dispersing.

This morning, our guest, Laura, was planning to catch the train to Florence, so we'd offered to drop her to the train station on our way out for our morning dog walk. So we all piled into the car and headed off for Pescia. On reaching the end of the drive it became clear that, for the hills just a little further up the valley from us, last night's thunderstorm had brought snow rather than rain - the hills were all lightly dusted in white. It always amazes me what a difference just a slight change in altitude and a couple of miles along the road makes to the weather.

As we drove into town the sun started breaking through and it seemed like it was going to be the clear sunny day that had been forecast. After dropping Laura off at the station and making sure she got her tickets OK, we stopped at Cafe Delice near to our chicken-run parking spot, where we quickly put away a cappuccino and a croissant each, before finally taking an increasingly impatient Reggie for his long awaited walk along the river bank.

Today was the first time in a while that we'd been able to see the bottom of the river - the water level was still high, but it was a lot calmer and clearer (crystal clear, in fact) than it has been for a while and the water seemed to be babbling rather than raging. Reggie had a great time, as always, and ran off plenty of his pent up energy.

After our walk we decided to pop to Borgo a Buggiano to call in at the agraria there to pick up a large sack of dog food. We'd somehow managed to miss that off the shopping list when we did the supermarket shopping on Friday evening, and rather than facing the supermarket again we decided to buy from the local agraria.

We then headed home and spent an hour or so clearing out and cleaning up in the utility room. Once our guest has left us next week, the plumber will be planning to come in and start on all the pipework for our new hot water system, which will involve running pipes through the utility room and down into the apartment, so it seemed like a good time to clear the room out, which has become a general dumping ground for items ranging from cat travel baskets to walking boots and washing powder.

By the time we'd finished that, it was such a lovely bright sunny day that we decided to have lunch outside on the patio. It was gloriously warm in the sunshine, and sitting in the fresh air with the sun on our faces while listening to the birds and taking in our beautiful view, we were reminded of how lucky we are to be here - we've had a fair bit of wet weather of late, and it's been a while since we've been able to sit back, relax and take our surroundings in.

It won't be long before this house disappears from our view. During the summer months the tree cover is so dense that we can't even see it.
Of course we didn't relax for too long - after changing into work clothes I headed down the terraces to continue to build a set of tyre steps on the bottom of the vegetable bed terraces that I'd started way back last summer, while Stuart turned his attentions to attaching the various connectors he'd bought from Frateschi yesterday to the three rain water collection tanks in position at the end of the house.

Determined to finish the flight of steps to the lower veg garden terrace!

After running out of tyres, and having come across one too many acacia root in the bank I was cutting into, I called time on the steps for one day and headed up to the drive to split some more logs while Stuart continued to connect up tanks.

First of three air release elbows fitted - we won't know whether they work until the tanks are full!

Lower tanks all linked with taps, pressure gauge and t-piece to link in the upper three.

The weather remained bright and sunny, as predicted, throughout the day and the sun was even hot enough on my back for me to work in a vest top while digging steps - the first time I've felt it that warm this year. It was also the first time this year that we've been able to continue working outside until nearly 6pm - the days are drawing out, which means we have longer to be able to get things done. Of course, the changes in the weather and the daylight hours are also having an effect on nature - we have crocuses all along the driveway, snowdrops on the banks, daffodils in the garden, blossom on the fruit trees, all around the valley the mimosa trees are in flower... and the grass is starting to get long and messy on the terraces. It won't be long before strimming season starts again!

We headed indoors at 6pm to get a fire lit - the days may be warming up but the evenings are still chilly, and after Stuart had been to collect Laura from the station we settled down to dinner, wine and a bit of Inspector Montalbano by the fire.


On Sunday morning after a short lie-in we decided to take Reggie straight out for a walk, so we put our boots on and headed out. First stop was, of course, Da Nerone for a coffee and a pastry, before heading up the Sorana road for a change. It has been a long while since we headed up in this direction, and it was nice to have the change of scenery. We were heading for the wooded area a little way beyond Sorana - we've tended to avoid woodland walks in the winter for fear of coming across hunters and having to backtrack, but today it was nice and quiet with the exception of a farmer on his tractor. We found the track very muddy and churned up, and littered with fallen trees and branches. Clearly the strong winds of a week or so ago did more damage in this part of the valley than elsewhere. Reggie didn't mind of course, and kept disappearing off into the trees eventually coming tearing back down the track to find us just as we were starting to wonder where he had got to.

Before coming home, we made our customary stop at Amanda's to buy something for our lunch. Once again, Samantha cut up a couple of slices of bread and took them out to the car for Reggie, which he wolfed down with gusto - she's definitely got the hang of how to win him over now!

We then headed home to do a few chores before settling down for lunch. As we neared the end of lunch we both admitted to feeling extremely unmotivated as regards to getting outside to do some work. In contrast to yesterday's glorious weather, today was cloudy and grey, and while it wasn't particularly cold, it didn't feel very inviting. We toyed with the idea of lighting the fire and settling down to an afternoon on the sofa, and were sorely tempted, but our consciences (and those nagging chores) got the better of us so we made a deal that we would go and work outside, but that we would only work until around 4pm, at which point we would come in and light the fire.

Stuart decided to try and crack on with the pruning of the olive trees as it's a job that needs finishing before we get properly into the spring weather, so while he did that, and Reggie looked on from the garden, I got the hedge cutters out and cleared the section of terrace behind the old shed.

Come 4.15pm, true to our word, we packed up our tools and headed inside to light the fire, get showered and changed into comfy clothes and settle down for a relaxing evening - the way weekends are meant to be!

Sunday 21 February 2016

Rain, rain go away!

After a damp weekend we were due more of the same for the start of the week, which would mean yet more delays to outside work - but that mattered little on Monday as we had an apartment guest arriving so my day was to be spent turning it from a Christmas-decorated gym back into a decent and hospitable accommodation proposition.

I'm over dramatising a little - all of the decorations apart from the twinkly icicle lights that I'd stapled to the centuries-old chestnut beams had been taken down and put away shortly after Christmas, and all that was in there on the gym front were two bikes, one turbo trainer and two dumbbells. My first job was to remove all of the above before I could start working my way through our 'turnaround checklist'.

I busied myself until lunchtime, having done all but the floor mopping and bathroom cleaning, so we were in a good state of readiness at that point as we weren't expecting to collect our guest, Laura, until 4pm from Pescia train station.

As I stopped for lunch with Helen the rains arrived, meaning that after lunch, in order to keep the apartment clean, a second pair of footwear was needed so that I could change at the door when going in and out! By 3pm all was done and the gas heater was on to raise the temperature in there by  a few degrees ready for our guest's arrival.

Reggie had missed his window for a walk today, which wasn't ideal as he's always more vocal when he hasn't had a walk, but that was the way it was today and soon I was heading off to collect Laura from the train station. I soon spotted her exiting the station lugging a large holdall, so I pulled over in a very Italian way to load her bag into the car - by which I mean I parked diagonally across chevrons right outside the station doors.

After taking Laura to Esselunga to grab some supplies, we headed back up the valley to install her into the now warm and dry apartment.

Tuesday morning was surprisingly dry - the rain in the night had been quite heavy at times, so when her alarm went off Helen took the chance to head out for a bit of exercise, having all but written the idea off before turning lights out to sleep.

Once up, I plodded around in the house before taking Reggie out for a much needed walk: I checked and watered the garlic, which is now living in the poly tunnel, collected some wood for the fire and went up to see the chickens.

Garlic loving life in the tunnel.
Our white Livornese (leghorn) was in the nest box so couldn't collect any eggs, but I threw a handful of grain down for them as they really enjoy eating from the ground and nowadays get excited at the prospect when we go to see them.

It seemed the grain bin had had a visitor overnight, and a very determined one at that!

A very determined visitor.
One more night of this kind of behaviour and they, what ever they are, will be in and bathing in grain, so I guess we're going have to find a more robust receptacle very soon. It seems it's very easy indeed to underestimate the wildlife here and its determination - I can see it will be a constant feature of rural life in the hills in some form or another.

After doing the rounds, I loaded Reggie into the car and headed to the chicken run to give him a chance to run along the river which he did with gusto, chasing off a cormorant and the same pair of mallards three times, and another dog that was out walking itself.

There was a fairly strong breeze this morning but no rain, and it seemed likely to stay that way until 3 or 4 in the afternoon, so after our walk I went to the nearby garden centre 'Natali' for a couple of large sacks of compost for seed planting and some small plant pots, ordering more for tomorrow.

Once home it was time for lunch and lighting the fire not to mention tidying up a little in readiness for Samatha's weekly visit. This week, Samantha came prepared with a large hunk of bread for Reggie which seemed to do the trick very well and he was almost putty in her hands.

Wednesday morning it was group Italian lesson at Numero 182, so with the fire lit and coffee pot on, we awaited our guests and wondered how Reggie would respond to Johnny this week. Sure enough, Johnny was barked at, like last time, but the arrival soon afterwards of David and Sarah seemed to serve as a small distraction, and we were soon all inside and seated. This time we suggested that Johnny should sit furthest away from the door (and sofa) to give Reggie a little more space to come into the house. This seemed to work really well and soon Reggie was fast asleep in front of the fire having had a few sneaky sniffs of Johnny's knees beneath the table - a huge improvement over last time when we'd had no choice but to put Reggie in the car for the morning. Onwards and upwards we hope!

After lunch it was back to work and while Helen headed for the office I went down to the poly tunnel with a range of power tools and wood to see what I could fashion from the bits and pieces behind the house to act as shelves so that we could get on with some seed planting.

By the end of the afternoon and after many trips up and down the terraces for yet another drill bit or piece of timber I had our first set of shelves constructed. The shelves are free-standing so that should  the poly tunnel ever take flight in the strong winds we get here, the shelves and plants need not necessarily go with it.

Let the planting commence!
With tools put away and Helen having done her office work for the day we loaded Reggie into the car for a quick walk at the cava before the light faded. After that we headed home to light the fire and cook dinner. As our wood pile for this winter starts to noticeably diminish we wonder how many more fires are left before the warmer weather arrives - it's only mid February, but from memory the fire was out of action sometime in early April last year.

On Thursday morning David had offered to come down and help out again for a couple of hours, which he did, but not before a few kisses from Reggie and coffee first. David and I then spent a couple of hours working in the car park area while the electricity board's helicopter worked in the valley delivering materials to the car parking area down in Pietrabuona (not that we heard it much over the noise of the chainsaw).

Spot the helicopter.

I was logging more of the acacia for Helen to split later in the afternoon, while David worked on finishing the steps I had started toward the back of the house.

Looking good David, thank you!
By lunchtime the steps were finished and looking rather splendid and there was a huge pile of logs ready to split for Helen so we retired to the patio in just T-shirts to have a cold glass of white wine, such was the glorious weather today.

Once Dave had left and after Helen and I had a quick lunch, Helen changed to come outside and while she spilt logs I continued with some more logging until the daylight started to fade.

On Friday morning I headed out with Reggie for a walk while Helen got a bit of work under her belt before Sue arrived for coffee around 11am. Reggie and I arrived home just before Sue got here, so I lit the fire and put some coffee on as we all caught up with each others dramas and happenings over the week. Our most notable drama of the week was the arrival of Mr and Mrs Rat (and probably Ratty offspring), as by this time we'd worked out that our very determined visitor(s) gnawing through the chicken feed bins were the Rat family. As the saying goes, you're never more than a few metres away from a rat, no matter where you live, but in urban settings they're generally largely invisible, setting up home in the sewer system. In a rural setting, however, especially one with livestock and their associated foodstuffs, it's an occasional occurrence that one has to deal with - and now seems to be our turn.

After a quick coffee I left Helen and Sue chatting while I went to see Paolo at Frateschi to see what he had in stock for dealing the ratty situation. I rummaged around the shelves for about ten minutes while some Italian chap bent Paolo's ear over a new spade handle (not literally). Once the guy left Paolo made a sigh of relief and rolled his eyes - it seems this level of chat was extreme even by local standards.

Paolo apologised for not having any bait traps in stock but said he'd order some urgently for us. While there and having Paolo's ear to myself I decided to try and explain our rain water collection system to him to see if he had any useful bits and pieces so that I could finally get on with the next stage of the project, having now had our six collection tanks standing empty for about 9 months.

As it stands, I have put down concrete pads for the tanks to rest on, Kerys and Ben painted the first three tanks (black to cut out light to reduce algal growth) in the summer, and they the tanks have been sitting proudly in place on the pads for several months. However, before I can go any further I need some way of allowing air to escape the lower tanks as the water fills them from the tanks above - otherwise the air inside would effectively act as a massive airlock.

First three tanks sitting as they have been for months now.

Either my Italian was excellent this morning (which of course it wasn't) or Paolo had supplied parts for exactly this problem before, and he dragged me upstairs to the plumbing room. After giving me three 90-degree elbows, he left me rummaging through a box full of random washers while he went to serve the next customer who had just walked in.

Air release elbows.
I made it back home with my bag of elbows, washers and connectors in time to chat a bit more with Helen and Sue before Sue headed back into Pescia, leaving us to have lunch.

After lunch I headed up to Castelvecchio to see our friend Paul - not to only help him set up his inherited chain sharpener but to have a nose around the building works they're having done at their place. We chatted over a mug of Yorkshire tea and then traipsed around the muddy build site before playing with the chain sharpener in his man cave. The guys Paul has working there seem to really know what they're doing and I've no doubt the end result will be top notch - I'll be looking forward to going back and seeing the finished work.

We could have chatted well into the evening, but as it was I'd told Helen I'd be home around half three so that we could go and do the food shopping so I headed back down the hill to collect Helen and head to Esselunga.

Having done the food shopping last Friday and thoroughly enjoyed having the entire weekend to ourselves without the trudge around the supermarkets hanging over us, we'd decided to do the same again this week, especially as we'd been promised a couple of dry days this weekend - a good chance to get some work done together outside.

With the shopping done we headed home to start the weekend with some wine and a toasty fire.

Sunday 14 February 2016

A wet weekend

After having been away in the wet and windy UK last week, and having had to get my head straight back down to work after coming home, I was looking forward to a nice weekend getting back to Tuscan farm-life. As it turned out, both the weather and a cold I'd brought back with me put paid to much in the way of, well, anything. Nevertheless, it's good to be home.


Saturday morning started out unexpectedly dry - we knew that the forecast was for rain this weekend, so we decided to take the opportunity to go and walk Reggie before the rains arrived. After a bowl of porridge each therefore, we put Reggie in the car and headed out.

Our first stop was of course for a coffee at our local bar in the village. While drinking coffee we were surprised to see a fire engine and another fire brigade vehicle turn up in the car park opposite. The owner of the bar (Sig. Nerone himself) explained that they had probably come to sort out the small landslide, or frana, that had happened on the hillside just behind the restaurant, and sure enough that is where the firemen were heading.

Over the last few days, the amount of water in the rivers and streams around here has increased significantly - the stream that borders our land, which dried up completely during the long heatwave of the summer, can now be heard crashing along down the hill to join the larger river in the valley bottom. The drop in the river in the village is usually all but a trickle rather than a fall, but at the moment it's almost enough to rival some of the falls we're used to seeing in parts of England - while it's not a spectacular drop, it would definitely qualify as a small waterfall.

It's little wonder, with the amount of rainfall we've had, that small landslides have also been occurring in various places around the valley - thankfully, nothing to have caused us any interruption in going about our business (so far at least)!

Anyway, with caffeine onboard, we went back to the car, where Reggie seemed to be getting worried that we might have forgotten the reason for coming out in the first place, and we headed up the hill towards Vellano.

We were disappointed to see a collection of 4x4 vehicles containing tell-tale high vis jackets on their seats at the start of the Obaca track that we sometimes use. This was clear indication that a hunt was either in progress or about to start. Until very recently, the wild boar hunting season in Tuscany lasted from September until the end of January. A couple of weeks ago, however, a law was passed that allows hunting in the region on 365 days of the year - for the next three years. For us, this is disappointing because the hunters can cause significant disruption. We've lost count of the number of times we've headed off to a nice woodland track to walk Reggie and had to re-route because we've come across a hunt - while the hunters themselves wear high vis jackets for safety, hapless dog walkers are not so well prepared, and of course we can't run the risk of Reggie tearing off into the woods and coming across the hunt.

The Obaca track runs just beneath the cava track that we often use, and which was where we were heading. We thought that we might be OK on the cava track though, if the hunt was only just starting we might have finished our walk before they made it up as far as that. We parked up at the quarry therefore, and started out. We were soon turning back, however, but this time not because of hunters but because, just beyond the water fountain near the start of the track the path was blocked with fallen/felled trees! There was quite a lot of chain saw noise, so whether they were trees that had fallen and were being cut up to clear the track or whether they had been purposely felled we weren't sure, but it was clear that we weren't going to get past the obstacle, so we did an about-turn.

We headed up the road with Reggie on the lead for a while until we came across the footpath that leads (eventually) to the village of Macchino. We hadn't tried this path before, although my Mum and Dad walked it when they visited in October, and our friends David and Sarah have often walked it, so we decided to give it a go. It was a lovely path and it was nice to try a different route for a change. Reggie had a great time crashing through the undergrowth and spent a fair while terrorising the little stream that crossed the path.

After a nice walk, we drove back home, left Reggie to doze on the sofa and headed into Pescia. We had some business in town - I wanted to see if I could change the doctor with whom I am registered to one who I have been told speaks very good English. This feels like a bit of a failure - I have to admit that, before we moved out here, I was sure that by the time I'd been here for nearly two years I'd be pretty fluent in the language (ha! dream on!) - but while we continue to plug away at trying to crack the language, and are making good progress, it is clear that we have an enormous way to go yet and where things like medical and veterinary matters are concerned, it's important to have clear communication, hence my decision to switch to an English-speaking doctor. Of course, the process of doing the switching itself involved going into the health service offices and speaking in Italian, but I'm pleased to say that I managed that part fine and we were both a little shocked to be walking out of the offices within a couple of minutes, having accomplished what we set out to do, without any confusion or obstacles. This has to be progress!

Since we'd parked our car near to Chris and Sue's, and had managed to complete our business in town in record time, we decided to pop in and say hello. We therefore spent the next hour or so sipping tea/coffee and Lemsip (did I mention I brought a stinking cold back from England with me?) and catching up with the Phillipses. Of course, Stuart had only seen them a couple of days previously, but it had been a while since I'd had the pleasure, and as always it was lovely to see them.

We left the Phillipses just before 2pm and headed back home for a late lunch just as the rain came down in earnest.

After lunch, with the weather clearly not being conducive to any form of constructive outdoor work (nor my sense of well-being if I'm honest, as I sniffed and sneezed my way through the day), we decided to take a trip to Montecatini to try and pick up a few bits and pieces. Our first stop was the garden centre to try and buy some compost so that we could do some planting in our poly tunnel. Unfortunately this particular garden centre was more about the plant than the substrate, and we left empty handed. Next stop was the pet shop Arcaplanet, where we picked up 6 ham bones for Reggie (which should last him a few weeks!) as well as some chews and a packet of treats for Florence. Then it was on to Stuart's favourite, Obi. I managed to feign interest while in the shop, and we picked up a new curtain pole but failed to find a tin of natural wood oil for the beehive and failed to find a suitable new light for the bathroom. Finally, we called in at Decathlon, where Stuart managed to pick up two new pairs of work trousers (which in fact are hunting trousers). While I'd rather he wasn't mistaken for a hunter, I am relieved that he will no longer have to walk around in his old work trousers that have holes in all sorts of inappropriate places!

By the time we got home after our shopping trip it was time to light the fire and settle down for an evening indoors listening to the rain hammering down outside.


We woke on Sunday morning to the sound of rain still drumming on the skylight/roof window, and the familiar sound of drips dropping through the window and into the three tupperware boxes that are strategically placed on the landing to collect them. It was the sort of weather that makes you want to stay huddled under the duvet in bed, but with Florence pacing up and down across us on the bed and Reggie starting to 'sing' from his crate downstairs, it was clear it wasn't going to be a duvet day for us!

After sorting out the animals, we had a quick bowl of porridge before agreeing that we would brave the weather and take Reggie for a walk in town - at least we knew it would be quiet! We all put on our waterproofs (Reggie included) and set off.

After a stop for a quick cappuccino in Nerone's bar, we continued on down the road into town, parked in the car park next to the old flower market, and headed off along the river bank. By the time we'd reached town the rain had eased up a fair bit - which was just as well, seeing as Reggie had managed to wriggle out of his rain coat while in the car. He'd somehow managed to end up with it tied around his waist, making it look as if he was wearing a skirt, so to save his embarrassment I took it off him before he jumped out of the car.

The river was fast and furious again today, having been swelled by the rain of recent days, and I watched Reggie like a hawk lest he decide to try another swim! Thankfully, he stuck to the riverbank for the most part, and only ventured to the water's edge to have a quick sip of water. The rain came down again while we were out, but by this time Reggie couldn't have cared less, and he ran around happily.

With our walk done, we headed back up the valley, making our regular Sunday stop at Amanda's for our lunch and to collect our homework. Samantha was intrigued to learn that bread is Reggie's favourite treat: we had walked into the shop carrying a loaf of bread we'd just bought from the bakery in town. As this wasn't something we would normally do, we explained that we'd had to bring the bread into the shop with us, because if we'd left it in the car there would have been none left by the time we got back, such is Reggie's penchant for a fresh (or even not so fresh) crusty loaf. After checking with Amanda if she could take a slice of bread, Samantha headed out to the car to try and cement her friendship with Reggie via a tasty slice of Tuscan loaf. Reggie was a little uncertain at first, but the bread won him over, and he even let Samantha pet him. The last time she'd seen him had been when we were just about to rush to the vet with him after his strange episode during the week, so she was pleased to see him feeling more like his usual self.

With our lunch and homework procured, we said goodbye to Amanda and Samantha and headed back towards home. As we were approaching the house, a familiar GB-plated car was just pulling away - it was our friend Paul, who had dropped by to drop off some spare chilli seeds but had found us out. We invited him back in for a coffee, so he turned the car around and followed us in.

We had a good chat and catch-up with Paul, exchanging news, stories and experiences and promising to go up and see him again soon - we have yet to see his and Kathy's house in the daylight! After saying goodbye to Paul we put our lunch in the oven to heat through, lit the fire (which we promptly took our eyes off - meaning that no sooner had it caught than it had gone out again), washed up the dirty dishes, and settled down for lunch - stuffed squid, a salt cod and leek stew, rosemary roast potatoes (of course) and some chard.

After lunch, we re-kindled the fire and I sat down in front of my computer... to order a dishwasher.

A dishwasher seems like a big luxury (and indeed it is), and I know that many, many people manage without one. It's also true that part of our reason for being here in Italy is to streamline, get away from unnecessary gadgets and lead a more simple, traditional lifestyle... but the dishwasher is something that we missed when we first moved out here, and something that we continue to miss, almost two years later. Part of the reason for this is that our kitchen here is small, and there is nowhere to pile the dirty plates other than on the cooker top. It's true that we could wash things up as we go (and we try to do that when we can), but without any hot water in our kitchen taps, the process of washing up involves filling a kettle, waiting for it to boil, before finally filling the sink and doing the washing - making it more economical in terms of both time and electricity to wait until there are enough dishes to wash to make it worthwhile (which means the dishes pile up on the cooker)... I've lost count of the number of times we've had visitors pop in unexpectedly and we feel our toes curling in embarrassment at the stack of dirty plates on display by the sink. So, after 21 months of living here, we finally took the plunge and ordered a dishwasher today and we look forward to a life of relative luxury with slightly less cluttered kitchen surfaces (at least a dirty-crockery-free cooker top). What's more, having a dishwasher will also make the sterilising of preserving jars all the more easy, so we should also be onto a winner when it comes to making chutneys, jams and preserves. Now we just have to wait and hope that the courier will be brave enough to make it down the drive to deliver it!

With the exciting prospect of a dishwasher to look forward to, and with the weather improved, but still grey and damp, we decided to spend the rest of Sunday afternoon by the fire, hopefully charging our batteries for the week ahead.

I leave you with the latest round up of photographs from our wildlife camera, which is currently fixed to the pole of our rotary washing line a short distance from the house.

Definitely a cat, but it's not Florence.

Fantastic Mr Fox?

Again, not Florence.

Saturday 13 February 2016

The traveller returns

Monday morning started with a couple of hours of blogging to get the weekend's post published. It seemed like a nice gentle way to ease my way into the week, and it was - until I went to publish the post and found that my web browser had lied to me when telling me it had saved the post and instead it had binned the lot, meaning I had to start the whole process from scratch! That was not something I felt like doing immediately, and in fact if I hadn't have left the house immediately I think the laptop would have been in extreme danger.

Reggie benefited from this in that, when I left the house to try and calm myself down, I took him with me, figuring I could walk him and give myself time to calm down at the same time. This meant that by the time I got home, I was in a good enough frame of mind to be philosophical about the recent loss and start on version two before carrying on with the rest of my day.

Tuesday was the day Helen was due home after her flying visit to England - but before she got home I had a few things to do!

Having got to bed early, I got up early and was out walking Reggie by 10.30am, having already put the first coat of plaster on the blocked up doorway in the kitchen.

Feeling very pleased with myself for having already achieved so much, I decided I had time to pop in and say hello to the Philips household on my way home, and we spent an hour or so chatting over a couple of pots of coffee. It was great to catch up with Chris and Sue - it felt like it had been months since I was last there (and quite probably was!).

Once home and after eating a quick lunch I made an effort to tidy up and do a few chores before hopping in the car to head to Pisa airport.

As I exited the autostrada I saw the familiar orange-and-white of an Easyjet plane coming in to land - 20 minutes ahead of schedule - which meant that Helen was through passport control and we were leaving even before we exceeded the free ten minutes of parking outside the terminal.

I was as happy to have her home in our little piece of Italy as she was to be home after a day of travelling by train, plane and automobile, and even Reggie made a really good show of being excited when he realised upon our return that I wasn't alone.

On Wednesday morning it was back to work for both of us, but not before heading into to Pescia to the bank to arrange a transfer to pay for the solar panel that had been delivered last week. Of course we also stopped for a quick a coffee before heading home, although not at our favourite haunt Franco's, as they were closed - as were almost all of the businesses in town, since today was a bank holiday. Luckily for us, the bank itself seemed to have missed the memo on that.

While Helen switched on her PC for the first time in almost a week I put a second coat of render on the wall in the house, which took us up to lunchtime.

After lunch we headed up to Vellano for our group Italian lesson. For those paying attention and wondering why our lesson was in the afternoon this week, it was because we had been asked the previous evening by our teacher Johnny if we would mind switching the lesson to the afternoon for this week (only). We didn't know why he'd requested the change until he arrived for the lesson - it turned out that he'd spent the evening of yesterday's festival at a club near Pisa, not getting home to bed until 6am today! Oh to be young again.

The lesson took us up to around 4.30pm after which it was time to go home and for Helen to do another couple of hours' work. While she got stuck in, I headed straight out up the valley again, this time with Reggie in the car. We stopped in Vellano to collect David for a short walk at the quarry before the daylight disappeared. Reggie thoroughly enjoyed himself, as he had clearly given up all hope of a walk today - not only that, but the extra treat of having his second-favourite male person join us for the walk was almost too much excitement for him to bear.

On Thursday there was due to be a break in the weather, and David had offered me a couple of hours of his time - which of course I accepted. Dave and I therefore spent the morning erecting the poly-tunnel that we'd ordered months back and which had been in its box being moved around since then.

It was a cool but beautifully sunny morning, which made for an enjoyable couple of hours' work while we built the tunnel and put it in position. By the time the tunnel was in place, it was time to stop for a beer and lunch - Dave and I had the beer that is, and then Helen and I had lunch before we tidied the house ready for Samantha.

After having my homework marked by Samantha, I ducked out of the lesson to get back to the poly tunnel, hoping to bolt it down before the winds of the last couple of days returned and blew the entire thing down the hill and into the river Pescia or beyond.

After a lot of walking up and down from the shed to the tunnel to find the right combination of drill bits and bolts I had the tunnel safely (I hope) anchored to four very heavy and dense concrete blocks.

After then plumbing in a standpipe and tap outside for watering whatever may be in the poly-tunnel in coming weeks, I headed up to the house to call it a day.

As I approached the door it opened and Reggie wobbled out - he didn't seem right at all, and I dropped to my knees to catch him as I could see he was about to lose his balance. He seemed unsure of what was going on and although he was standing, his back legs had gone completely and it was only because I was holding his hips that he didn't fall over, then his bladder gave out and he urinated where he stood - not good signs, and Helen wasted no time in asking Samantha to call the vet for us. Thankfully, Helen's lesson had just come to an end and ten minutes later we were Pescia-bound to go and see Alessandra, the nice vet we saw with Reggie a few weeks ago, to get him checked over. By this time he was much more himself, whatever crisis it had been having passed, and he put up the usual fight when we tried to get him to go into the vets.

Once in the consulting room, I had to sit on the floor in the corner of the room with him before Alessandra could get near enough to get a stethoscope on his chest to see what was going on.

She said that his heart was giving an odd third beat - nothing at this point to worry about, and she didn't think it was related to the earlier episode. In fact, she thought that the most likely explanation for the earlier episode was a mild epileptic fit (although he is quite young for this, epilepsy not usually showing up until around the age of 3), so we went away with instructions to watch him and if the same happened again to check the colour of his gums and his pupil response immediately to try and help identify the source of the problem.

Feeling somewhat drained, it only having been a few short weeks since we lost our poor little Lucca, we headed straight home for a glass of wine, bypassing the supermarket shopping which we had considered doing while in town.

Before we knew it, Friday was once again upon us and Reggie and I started the day with a walk as he had clearly been frustrated yesterday when we drove him all the way into town merely to be prodded and poked at the vet, and not even stopping at the river for a walk on the way back.

I decided to head for the "chicken run" stretch of the river and was surprised to see evidence of how high the river had been in recent days by means of a tide mark high up on the bank.

I'm pleased to announce that Reggie had his first swim this morning - he hadn't planned it though! He spotted a couple of Mallard ducks within reach of the bank and charged at them in full-on predator mode. Of course, as soon as they saw him coming they took to the air, but Reggie was determined and kept gunning for them - all of a sudden disappearing into the river up to his collar.

I stood speechless for a second, expecting the still raging water to take him off down stream. Thankfully those strong limbs of his carried him straight back to dry land with something of a surprised look on his face. By now I was almost wetting myself with laughter, which he chose to ignore as he came as close to me as he could to shake himself dry.

Once home and with the doggie dried off, I started work on the final and third coat of plaster on the wall in the kitchen. I'd been looking forward to putting the final coat on all week, and had Dave not offered to come down and help out yesterday I think I'd have been doing it yesterday despite the weather being dry. As it was, I'd made the best use of the dry weather with Dave, and was finishing the final coat as the rain started coming down outside.

When Helen had finally clocked off her office work for the week, we braved the supermarket shopping, after having avoided it yesterday. While it is amongst our least favourite chores, our cupboards, fridge, and most importantly wine rack were entirely empty, so if we wanted to eat, we needed to shop! Of course doing the shopping on Friday meant that we would have that particular chore out of the way for the weekend, which we felt good about.

After having done the shopping and put it all away, we lit the fire and settled down with a glass of wine at the end of another lightning-fast week.