Today I went jogging for the first time in twenty years. As a young man in New Zealand I ran, swam and played squash. Then as a lawyer in London swimming, jogging and cycling were a part of my daily routine. So as the years passed, I still imagined myself to be fit and physically capable as I had been earlier. Holding onto this belief, there didn't seem to be any need to test it. And besides, working at La Faula involved a lot of movement and physical activity.
The trouble with La Faula is that the bedrooms have a lot of mirrors that reflect only the mid-part of a normal adult. There are few things less appealing than the middle part of a somewhat rotund middle-aged man. Being, in my head, still a fit twenty-something (well, maybe 30 some-thing), I preferred to believe that the partial picture distorted the whole. But eventually I forced myself to study what I had become. Yes, it was me in the mirror, but what was I to do about it?
Now, some people are fairly indifferent about food. But I love it. My great pleasure is going out with, or to, friends and eating and drinking up large and generally being my opinionated self. I had to face up to the fact that if I was to carry-on indulging this pleasure, I was going to have to move my physical activity up a series of notches.
Recently I have started taking the border collies for a walk along the river stopbank in the morning. Now that the Agriturismo is closed the dogs are desperately bored and incessantly seek attention. As I can't fill the attention deficit of all the guests who have given the dogs love over the summer, I decided that spending time with them by walking them would at least assuage my guilt at not being able to play with them every minute of the day as they would like. After a while, I found that I was really enjoying the walks myself and so I decided that I would walk the dogs in the morning and go for a run at night.
Feeling that my running days were not too far past in my history, I said to Luca 'Do you know where my running gear is?' Now, as a keen runner for many years I had had a collection of sweats, tracksuits, cushioned socks and the like. I assumed that they must be all there, stored away by Luca, in a neat pile, ready to be pressed into action. 'What' said Luca. 'They've all disappeared. When you wore those you were a third of the size you are now. Over the years, I've used them. They've been worn-out. Maybe a sweatshirt top or two remain'. I remembered that over the years I had seen Luca wearing my tracksuits and sweat-pants and dimly remembered that I had got too big for them. The road to ruin is short indeed!
'It is warm. You can wear your summer shorts' said Luca. 'No' I said. 'I'm too old to want to be cold. I want to have a gentle jog all cosy and covered'. I dug out a light grey pair of brushed-cotton pyjama pants that I had got from Virgin Atlantic one overnight trip returning to London from New York. They were pretty cheap and lacked elastic but had a sturdy draw-string so I was able to bind them tight around my waist. When I ran, all those years ago, running shoes and their technology were of the utmost importance to me. I was deeply attached to the Nike Air Max of which I had numerous pairs. Not one had remained. I found a pair of Reebocks that had an inflatable aircushion that you pumped up using a soda-syphon cartridge. The cushion was down, the plastic was cracked and the idea of putting them back into service seemed too daunting so I settled on a pair of Nike running shoes that I had bought in Italy years ago but which I had found to be a bit too tight. Trying them on again, after all this time, they didn't seem as bad as I had remembered them so keeping the laces a little slack I put them on, tied them up, and started the first jog of my middle age. Fifty-one and back on the road!
Well, actually, back on the grass. I jogged gently down the river stopbank in the cooling evening air. Other people were out walking. A couple were searching for their dog that had run off seeking adventure. It wasn't so difficult. But I knew from previous experience that when one has had a break from running the first jogs when one returns are not so bad. It is afterwards when the body must adjust to the new demands being placed on it that the running gets hard so I guess that tomorrow should be OK but that for the weeks afterwards I am going to find the going tough!
During my jog I came across Sara and Giovanni walking their dog Missie. Giovanni sometimes reads my blogs and he keeps me honest. When I am writing critically of the Italians, which admittedly is quite a lot of the time), I imagine that Giovanni is reading it and ask myself can my opinions be justified by fact and reason or are they just hot air. Sara and Giovanni are also great hosts and great cooks and wonderful wine connoisseurs. To go to their place for dinner, cosy, and warm in these autumn months is to enjoy a banquet of the best food accompanied by wines, every drop of which is a pleasure to drink. Being a pit peckish as the result of the run, I took the opportunity to inveigle an invitation for dinner in the near future!
The end of Italy inside the Euro happened like this. Berlusconi presented a letter to the meeting of Heads of Governments of the Euro Countries 27 October 2011. It was a strange mixture, vague as to reforms but precise as to some dates on which they would be enacted. The letter was far from a blueprint to create a vibrant, liberal, free market economy in place of the statist-corporatist model Italy has always followed.
But even that was too much. Berlusconi's letter was attacked by the trade unions who said that 'we are dealing with rules that operate against work and the Italian social model'. The leader of the largest Party of the Opposition rejected liberalisation of the labour market out of hand saying 'If we light the fuse of social division instead of cohesion one risks dramatic consequences'. The leader of the Italian of Values Party, the ex-Investigating Magistrate Antonio De Pietro also rejected liberalising the labour market allowing workers to be laid-off as did Gianfranco Fini leader of the Future & Liberty party who only months ago tried to style himself as a liberal. The Northern League is against any liberalisation, being a pseudo-Nationalist off-shoot of the now-defunct Italian Communist Party.
Even the revered President of the Republic, 86 year-old Giorgio Napolitano, asked the Government to reconsider proposed cuts to be made in the massive funds given by the Italian State to support newspapers (on the basis that this would reduce 'pluralism'). This support is one of the most egregious anti-democratic practices in Italy today (it makes the press pliant) apart from the fact that it is also subject to massive fraud and corruption. As a member of the Italian Communist Party right to the very end, Napolitano would have been very grateful for the support provided to the party newspaper 'Unità'
And in that, you have the answer to the question as to why Berlusconi is still the Italian Prime Minister. He is the same as all the others, and the others are the same as him, and the Italians know it. In Italy everyone looks out for their own interests and the devil may take the hindmost. So what is going on in Europe concerning the Euro is irrelevant to what is going on in Italy. No change is possible because no-one group will risk giving up the status quo and no-one trusts the others. Being corporatist in structure, power is shared out between groups but all the groups, bumping up against each other and generating friction in the struggle for resources, are committed to things staying as the are. In Italy it is better to sink together than to allow elements to break out and swim for freedom.
In Italy no one even knows what changing to a free market could mean because they are not liberals and do not know what constitutes economic freedom. They believe, to their core, that giving the other (Italian) man his freedom will not result in that freedom being exercised to the greater good but to the selfish interests of those who are free to follow them. And if one Italian is not free, he doesn't see why the others should be. In recognising that Italians will not purposefully act for the greater good (obviously there are exceptions!), it has never occurred to Italians that in allowing people to be free and follow their own interests the greater good can still be served.
When Italians describe themselves, they describe the envy that they believe they individually, as a people, possess and the desire they have to see the other fellow do badly, even to the point of doing badly themselves. The following joke has been told to me many times and it makes the point well:
There were two neighbours. God said to one of them "I will give you anything you ask, but whatever you receive, your neighbour will receive twice as much. Would you be rich? You can be very rich, but he will be twice as wealthy. Do you wish to live a long and healthy life? You can, but his life will be longer and healthier. What is your desire?" The man frowned, thought for a moment, and then said, "Here is my request: Strike me blind in one eye!"
This is what is going on in Italy now. When the markets and Europe realise that Italy is not going to save itself, to save the rest Italy will have to be cut loose from the Euro. When this happens it will be bad for those in Italy that the system serves well: politicians, pensioners, state employees. But it will be much worse for the others: bankrupt business people, workers without jobs, young people without hope. This last group will have nothing.
The point was well made today. A young entrepreneur took out a full page advertisment in the Veneto edition of the Corriere della Sera (see the link below). In it he posed fully nude, strategically placed hands protecting his modesty. The text read: EVERY DAY IN ITALY AN ENTREPRENEUR RISKS TO BE [EVEN] WITHOUT HIS UNDERWEAR
It's true. But in Italy, who cares?
Today is the day when Silvio Berlusconi is supposed to take to a meeting of European leaders a list of concrete measures that his government will implement to ensure the the Italian economy will outgrow its public debt. As it happens, he is taking a letter of intent. Leaks from his cabinet have disclosed that although a letter of intent falls short of the certain steps that other European leaders have been demanding, Berlusconi is counting on the fact that fear of provoking a crisis will stay the hand of those countries that may be inclined to attack Italy for its lack of action. This is very Italian, Machiavellian. It is also very Italian not to consider all the consequences of an action. Even if France and Germany are so restrained, the markets needn't be and it is a fact that the BCE cannot continue to buy Italian debt in the secondary market forever. Italy as ever is running the most atrocious risk of not being able to service its public debt.
You might think that the opposition parties would be right there with their lists of the steps to be taken to liberalize the economy and free the latent growth ensnared. Lack of growth impacts terribly on workers without jobs, on entrepreneurs who struggle to make a profit and risk bankruptcy, on kids who suffer inadequate schooling as education investment is squeezed. It is terribly bad for a country. But the Italian opposition parties are quiet. Of course, they criticise Berlusconi for his legal problems and dragging Italy into disrepute. But as to policy they are silent. They are silent because they would do pretty much as Berlusconi has done and they would, no more than Berlusconi, maybe even less, be able to implement the reforms being demanded of Italy.
When economic growth is not a priority for an entire political class; when they will let an economy stagnate and slowly retrench; when they will let workers lose their jobs without hope of replacement; when they will let education fall into disrepair for lack of funds; when they will inspect and control the life out of business; when they will impose a tax burden until the productive sector sweats blood enough to produce a primary surplus (taking more than they spend, excluding debt service); when they will use emigration of young people as a safety valve then one knows that that political class doesn't represent workers, young people and entrepreneurs. By definition they represent those not involved in the productive or future productive life of the country. Excluding babies, Italy's political class represents the old, retired and about to retire.
A country with an enormous public debt but a stable primary budget surplus and no debt reduction (incremental debt increase) is a country dedicated to the status quo. The internal gains generated in creating the public debt have already been captured by those economically active (working, buying houses, accumulating capital and assets) at the time the debt was created. That group are content to let the subsequent generation service the debt, without considering who will pay for the principal. This was the strategy supported by every political party in the land.
What unsettled the calculation of the older generation that they could borrow up large and then let the generation immediately following service the debt and then some later generation repay the capital was the refusal of the markets to believe that this was sustainable. And they refused to believe that it was sustainable because the Italian economy struggles to provide the wealth that the country requires.
The future of the Euro hinges, fundamentally, on Italy. Italy is under pressure from other European countries, especially France and Germany, to get a grip on its economy and convince the bond markets that it will be able to force government spending down and grow its way out of its debt.
The generation that currently runs Italy never intended to pay back the principal. Instead, they hoped to pay the interest and leave the repayment of the capital to some other generation. But the markets called them out.
Italy has until Wednesday to present a credible plan to growth. But any plan will be incredible. The reason is that no political party in Italy believes in doing what growth would require. Creating real markets in services that are currently profitably cantonised by guilds or professional groups, removing clogs on the economy such as notaries, removing the system of bureaucratic tutelage that restrains and inhibits economic enterprises, allowing ideas to become economic enterprises with minimum friction, suppressing cartels and uncompetitive behaviour. Italy would have to do these, at a minimum, but not a single political party, in Italy, is interested.
Italy may not be a representative democracy but it is a nation whose people govern themselves. If, after 150 years of nationhood, they have not seen the need to create a liberal and free-market economic system it is futile for other Europeans to think that they will do it now.
The key thing to understand is that the Political Parties in Italy are not differentiated by being from the left or right. Rather, they can be thought of as a spoils system for the generation born shortly before or after the second world war. Italians of that generation follow politics as they follow football. Being involved with one party or another can bring advantages. Being a spectator is all the more enjoyable if one roots for one party instead of another. But in the end, the game is played to the benefit of the people in their late 50's or older.
When these people were poor, and young, they had no savings. The only way out was economic growth. Inflation, devaluation, non-payment of taxes, lack of safety and environmental legislation created a wild west of growth. In high-inflationary times credit was hard to obtain so the State provided it and the lucky beneficiaries saw inflation erode the real value of the debt. Many houses were bought that way. And when the State had empty coffers, it borrowed, and took on workers who where not required to work. It was a big party in which people who had known grinding poverty suddenly found themselves living a life richer and more leisured than the Feudal Landowners who had oppressed them within the times of their own memories.
But then, these people started to get older. They had assets and savings so inflation had to be tamed. Old age beckoned so the State provided generous pensions. They no longer wanted to face hazards in their work and environment so environmental and work and safety laws were enacted and enforced. As these people left the productive sector, they sought to secure their lifestyle so eliminating tax evasion became a key role of the state.
The key thing to understand is that the Italian State exists only for this generation. Not for the ill-educated young people. Not for the young people that cannot find work. Not for the Entrepreneur struggling with Italian bureaucracy, subject to an extreme tax burden and all the time being controlled by the State to ensure compliance with the myriad laws restricting his or her freedom of action.
to be continued tomorrow if it rains!
Before continuing with the story of the Chimney Man and why we are freezing here at La Faula (almost like the Queen - close to fuel poverty!), for those of you who are interested, here is a summary of what we are currently up to. I Skyped it to a friend then thought that it would be good to share ....
Today the rain came so we have a moment to repose. We have just finished digging-up the ground around half of the house laying water pipes and tubes for new external electricity cables. It was a big job but it had to be done. Last year we got an industrial water decalcifier - principally for the winery - but as we only have one water system at La Faula we were using expensively decalcified water to wash the tractors, spray the vines and water the garden. A no-no if ever there was one! The work we have just done creates two water circuits more or less isolating the de-calcified water to uses in the house and winery.
We have also taken out the wet-back wood-burning stove we use for winter heating and hot water and have contracted to buy a more efficient wood-burning boiler and re-make completely the chimney. We have had the old wet-back stove since 1996. It was very good at keeping us warm but its design resulted in a large, and eventually dangerous, build-up of creosote in the chimney. We have, we hope, identified a wood-burning boiler that is efficient and which avoids this problem. The trouble is that the work won't be done until late November. It is already cold inside and the prospect of opening walls, drilling and breaking rock fills us with horror. Of course, one can't make an omlet without breaking the egg but it's easier said than done! Hopefully though, it will work out well, and give us at least another 16 years of winter warmth without problems.
We have contracted to get a WiMax internet connection. The internet connection we have is not bad but when they are working on it, which isn't that often, it goes out sometimes for a week so we have decided to diversify our risks.
We think that next year could be dire. It seems unlikely that we can avoid the economic misery that swirls around. Italy is absolutely disastrous - worse than I can actually comprehend. Berlusconi is one thing but the venality, despicability, duplicity, incompetence and dishonesty of his Ministers of State defies belief. Of course, many Italians are indignant and - good on them - show their indignation but the majority of good'ol boys and girls here are wholly content. Pensions are adjusted for inflation as every year, they don't have to sell or wind-down their assets. Italy is a generational den of thieves.
Yesterday we signed a contract for two more webcams. As Len observed a couple of years ago, the current webcam, at night, looks like it is transmitting images of a WWI night battle over the trenches. We have to keep pushing ourselves out into the web. If we don't we are lost. Over some resistance from Luca, I have ordered two expensive top-of-the-line day/night cameras. One will record the hill behind us which is very beautiful and the other a shot from the barn where the tractors are, over the fountain and with a sliver of pool blue in the distance. As the lens will be wide angle and the camera mounted away, and on high, we don't anticipate any privacy concerns or problems with pictures of kids etc.
The trouble is that owning a small (or, I guess any) business is so complicated now that every day one has to overcome a kind of stickiness. The environment in which one operates is like a molasses. Of course, growth can only be slow. We were shocked when ordering the webcams that we had to pay the whole amount in full before they would even order them from the factory. Non payment is a great problem in Italy and they just weren't prepared to take any risk on us not paying, even a portion. This is despite the fact that we have already purchased one webcam from them. Now the whole risk is on us should they fail or not deliver. Italian courts offer no redress so it shows just how far things have degenerated here.
The same was with the new stove. The supplier wouldn't even consider ordering a screw until he had 40% of the total price in his bank account!
to be continued .....
Just at that point, the Chimney Man's phone rang. The video camera cable in one hand, he deftly removed the telephone from his top pocket with the other. I noted that he looked at the number before deciding to answer. 'Pronto', Pronto' he said 'eh Ciao!'
Obviously the Chimney Man knew the caller and had decided that the call would not be brief. Cradling the telephone between ear and shoulder he slickly pulled-up the black cable and fished the video camera out of the chimney. Keeping the telephone to his ear and the cable and camera in the other hand he made his way unevenly up to the nearest ridge in the roof and settled onto it.
'Hm, hm, OK, OK, Hmm Hmm' Ten metres above me at the highest point of the roof, it was impossible not to hear the Chimney Man's conversation. There was a lot of 'I said' and 'He said' and it was pretty clear that he was in dispute with someone and was chewing his side of the story over with the caller. I moved out of sight, under the eaves, to avoid seeming to be an eaves-dropper.
Assuming that the call would be, if not brief, at least not too long I hung around, loitering while waiting for him to finish his conversation. It occurred to me that I had not seen the son so I searched him out and found him busy wrapping up the fogolar hood in opened black plastic bin bags, stuck up with silver metallic tape of the kind used to seal stainless steel chimney pipe joints.
'What are you doing?' I said, aghast at the idea of closing the whole open space under the large smoke hood.
'I have to close it' said the son 'so that no soot comes out when we clean the chimney'
'Ah, OK' I replied, but the chimney was barely used, maybe the fire was lit once or twice a year, so I wondered whether the potential amount of soot could justify the effort the son was making.
Eventually, the Chimney Man finished his call and returned to earth.
'How was it' was all that I could think to say.
'It's finished' he replied. 'That chimney is a fire risk. You know that creosote burns at 1,200°C and with those wooden rafters ... well!'
'Is is really that bad' I said
'Well you can decide for yourself' he said. ’But if it catches fire you won't have any insurance because that chimney doesn't comply with the law and the Fire Brigade will charge you a fortune to put it out. And that's without the roof itself catching fire!'
'Oh' I said
Now, of course, I don't want to burn La Faula down just trying to keep warm on a winter's evening. But I didn't want to remake the chimney just because I had been frightened into it. I harboured suspicions about the chimney man and felt uneasy.
'So what should we do then?' I said
'Nothing else for it' he replied 'I've got the core drill. We'll just drill out the wall from the kitchen into the dining room. There, I'll put a 90° curve and then drill through to the outside wall. I can then mount a double insulated, copper clad chimney compliant with all the relevant laws.'
'Ah' I said. 'You'll insert the new chimney pipes into the old?'
'No, impossible' he replied.
'No, the only thing is to mount the new chimney on the outside of the old.'
to be continued ........
We looked at each other. I didn't know what to say. Maybe the Chimney man was always on the phone but never with me! The two of us waited comfortably in silence. There was nothing to be said so we stood there, idly taking in the view. Eventually, the van door opened and a man dressed in black emerged from the van's interior. I saw immediately that the Chimney man had a predilection for beer and fatty foods. I didn't realise at that stage that he would be going onto the roof. When I did, I feared for the old clay roof tiles that we had so carefully removed then replaced when the roof was remade 10 years ago.
I pointed out the fogolar fireplace where I was hoping to place the cosy Danish stove. Then, I pointed out the chimney connected to the wet-back stove in the kitchen that keeps us warm in winter. The Chimney man looked up to the top of the chimney and took in the black streaks of creosote running down from the chimney lip. Just a faint whistle and slight shake of the head but instantly I knew that we were in trouble.'Right then' said the Chimney man. 'Is there an opening to the roof?' 'Sure' I replied that won't be a problem' 'I'll just get my equipment' he replied and disappeared behind the van. I heard the door opening and a lot of rummaging going on. Eventually he emerged with a big black pack on his back, solid and expanded as he was. Over one shoulder was a roll of black electrical cable.
As we went upstairs, he with his big solid workboots, I prayed that he hadn't been cleaning any chimneys before coming to us. On the top floor we arrived at the little window that gives out onto the roof. It seemed improbable that he would be able to squeeze through so I rapidly removed anything in the vicinity that could possibly be dirtied or broken. 'We'll be alright then' the Chimney man said obviously bidding me to leave. What could I do. As so often in Italy, hoping for the best, I left them to their devices.
I slunk around the house, loitering under eaves and corners where I couldn’t be seen from above until I located the Chimney man on the very highest part of the house. He was feeding a bulb-shaped object into the chimney, I guessed this was the video camera with light source that he would use to make the inspection. Letting the black cable run out a little at a time he lowered the video camera down the chimney, watching its internal progress on a monitor hung from a strap going around the back of his neck and resting on the upper part of his stomach.
’How is it’ I shouted-up. ’Kappa O’ he replied and made the sign of the cross.
to be continued
Before I get back to the story of why I am sitting here in a tepid kitchen - though far from cold as I am wrapped-up like Father Christmas - I should mention that last evening we found out that our Sauvignon Blanc 2010 had won a Gold Medal at one of the Italian National competitions for Organic wines. Being a competition only for organic wines, of course, the field was limited. However, Italy is the world's second largest wine producer so it does please me, as a New Zealander, to have succeeded making a white wine that as received some recognition.
For those of you who have followed this blog over the years, you will know that in 2004 we employed the services of a consulting wine-maker who knew little about wine-making. We were slow to ditch him, thinking that his idiosyncratic wine-making methods were a sign of his genius; it was too preposterous an idea that he could just have been making it up as he went along. In fact he was just making it up as he went along. A real Bernie Madoff winemaker! His insistence that all our wines - white and red - had to age minimum three years hid from us the fact that we were making wines nobody would want to drink. Of course, we noticed that the wines were not to the standard, principally the white wines, but assumed that this guy had some unrevealed master-plan and that at the end when the wines emerged they would be the exceptional drinks that he promised they would be. They weren't and recovering from that situation was the result of some very good luck and the generosity of spirit of some angels who helped us put things to rights.
Making red wine is comparatively simple, a deft touch and experience allow the red wines effectively to make themselves. One is but a shepherd, keeping those yeast happy and where you want them. White wines also make themselves but are a much tougher proposition as they must, in the modern market, be light, clean, fruity and pleasing to the palate. This is largely achieved by fermenting the grape juice free of large sediments such as bits of leaves, insects etc. The fermentation temperature was dreamed-up by Goldilocks - it has to be neither too hot or the aromas will 'burn off' and neither too cold or the yeast may throw-in the towel leaving space for bacteria to make vinegar. At the end, the light and fruity wine must be kept free of oxygen, excess tartaric acid must be precipitated out and it must be kept cool, at least until bottling, so that a secondary fermentation that results in malic acid being transformed into lactic acid, with a resulting flatness, doesn't occur.
Mostly, the techniques used in white wine making involve the use of machinery to clarify the wine, and machinery to chill the wine and hold it at a certain temperature and a truly sterile bottling plant with filters with 100% integrity. In all this there are dynamic parameters of temperature and time to be applied and respected. If one has studied wine-making at University or in a Technical College or has worked in a winery one has seen how the machinery is used and the techniques applied. In my case I created a kind of completed jig-saw puzzle putting together all the information that I could glean from people who know about these things. But when the time came, I was on my own and it was frightening and I did make mistakes and I did encounter problems. Now I know that I probably over-clarified the juice prior to fermentation beginning. In fact, when grape juice is too clean the yeast lack nutrients to begin the fermentation. I didn't help the yeast by not knowing how to converge the yeast culture temperature with the (cooler) wine temperature. I was lucky, and in the end by adding a hardy species of yeast that is more resistant to difficult conditions than its more selected cousins, the fermentation started and it ran normally and through to its gentle end with effectively all the fermentable sugars having been transformed into alcohol. I was lucky because every wine-maker fears the 'stuck' fermentation where the yeast find the environment too stressful and a certain way into the fermentation give up the ghost. Even without this happening, under stress the yeast can begin metabolic processes that damage the wine including the production of acetic acid so that the wine seems to have gone into vinegar. Once this happens the wine is ruined and that's the end of it.
So I am happy to have made white wine once, using the essential techniques in use today, and to have got to the end, not only without having been cursed by bad luck but with some recognition for the end result!
Now, back to my story about how it is that at 51 years of age, when I should be reclining in a warm and cosy house, instead I am sitting here wrapped-up as if to resist hypothermia!
..... I was quite enthusiastic about the whole idea of getting a nice Danish stove installed in the place of the open fireplace that made a fridge of the lounge. I envisaged us sitting there in the evening reading or watching BBC on the iPad app. I waited with anticipation for the Chimney man to call and agree a time and date to come and inspect the chimney. But he didn't come. And when I called the number that I had been given he didn't answer.
Now, as we all know, Europe is going into recession and Italy is leading the way. One would think that the Chimney Man would have been at our door in an instant. Doing the job and getting paid for it. But no. Nothing. I called the stove salesman 'Look' I said 'Your Chimney Man is nowhere to be found' 'Don't worry' said the stove salesman. 'I'll talk to him and get back to you'. Here I have to mention that I had to ring the stove salesman more than once as his phone just rang free on a number of times that I called him. I was getting a sinking feeling about the situation and starting to wonder how it could be that I seemed to have moved from potential buyer to petitioner! The stove salesman called me back 'I've just spoken to the Chimney Man. He said that he has spoken to you and you havve agreed that he will come around next week.' 'OK' I said. It wasn't true but at least I could be reasonably sure that he would come the next week.
And the following week the chimney man did come around. In a large shiny, latest-reg van with all his ISO numbers and skills plastered on the side plus a list of the special German technologies that he could apply in following his calling! The van came to a halt in the middle of the driveway. But then it had to go backwards as our plumber was just leaving. Then the new white van came back. I stood expectantly. I saw that there were two occupants inside and I waited for them to get out. Time passed and the dogs who were waiting around my feet grew restless. Eventually, the passenger door opened and a young man with a long pale face and page-boy collar-length haircut got out. 'He's on the phone' said the young man. 'He's always on the phone'.
To be continued .....
Normally, at this time of the year, when the first cold of autumn has touched us in the evening and morning, I'm sitting here in a warm and cosy kitchen with two dozing Border Collies at my side and the wood-burning stove crackling away and throwing yellow lights and black shadows on white tiles.
This evening, however, after a long, hot shower I'm sitting here, in a tepid kitchen, hotter than in the summer under all the warm gear I put on to keep me from chilling in my immobility, fixed in front of the computer screen. The internet connection comes and goes. I want to think that it is because Hutchinson 3 Italia is up-grading the network and some time soon the 21Mbps promised by the dongle will materialise. But I suspect that the reality is that we are all at home in these early-darkening evenings and we all want to be on-line at the same time. The coming and going of the internet is it's own digital creaking.
I am cold - or rather I would be if it were not for the elaborate care I have taken to wrap-up - because I wanted the lounge to be warm this winter. In the middle of the lounge is a fogolar, an open fireplace umbrella-ed by a hood in the middle of which is a great hole leading outside to the chimney. The chimney is made of concrete blocks and is 10 meters high. When the fire is not lit, the chimney sucks the air out of the house, a giant lung that renders the lounge a cold store. When the fogolar is lit, however, the great draught sometimes stops, and rolling billows of smoke descend from the hood and fill the room with choking, eye-watering, stinking grey. All windows and doors are then opened and the cold floods in. One day I said 'enough' 'never again'. And about a month ago I found on the internet a very nice Danish stove, 3 sides in glass, that we could insert into the fogolar. I called the local agent who came around. He seemed very capable and emphasised that they key to good stove function is in the chimney so he would send around his chimney man to have a look inside with a special video camera.
to be continued.