Fields of dreams

Photo: If I stay really still you won’t see me. One of our many lizard friends that made it’s home in the barbecue whilst we were in lockdown.

Fields have dominated our time back in Italy over the last few weeks. Jan has been running next to them and Colin has been doing the same on his bike, despite the heat. Returning one afternoon from a long ride the bike computer reported a temperature, officially known as “Scorchio”:

A green field with twenty two players and no crowd dominated one evening. With Man City losing to Chelsea. Liverpool became Premiership Champions for the first time. We were so glad we went to Anfield to watch them play Southampton in February – their winning season.

A few days later the fields of Glastonbury visited us for an evening. On what would have been the Saturday night top spot on the Pyramid stage we held our own Glasto. We joined a Zoom call with several friends back in the UK. We’d each submitted three songs. Carl, our host, played them with a YouTube video. We decided to make our own Pyramid stage with the jacuzzi cover.

Our songs were:

Amarillo” by Tony Christie

Summer of ’69” by Bryan Adams

For some reason, for our final contribution, Jan chose “We are the Champions” by Queen. Can’t think why.

For the rest of the time here we’ve been very busy in our field. Or garden, as we prefer to call it. Our spring planting plan was conducted in the heat of July. Not the best time to plant as we’re having to water them every day. At least we have our own water well (pozzo). We did, once we’d had the pump replaced after we discovered it didn’t like being left for seven months and decided to pack in completely.

7 hydrangeas under the shade of the cyprus trees:

Another 19 oleander to provide colour and cover the bank:

Another 100 lavender plants to keep the bees happy:

and finally a couple of summer flowering plants to stand guard outside the front door:

If you know what they are, please let us know:

As soon as the temperature is little higher, we’ll claim our reward in this:

La Dolce Vita.

Dash for the border

Photo: A border of a different kind. The ‘confine’ between us and the road

President Macron obliged. He confirmed that the French border would open on Monday 15th June. We planned to leave on Tuesday night. A couple of friends crossed the channel on Tuesday morning, no problems. Encouraged, we packed the car, had lunch, then a sleep ready for the long drive.

“How long are you leaving the country for?” was the only question from UK Border Force. “Where are you going?” was the only question from the French border control. As soon as they heard “Italy” we were waved through to board the train.

We arrived on French soil at 03:00. Colin’s ‘through the night’ cycling came in handy as he drove in the darkness, though at this time year it was getting lighter again after a couple of hours. We had enough food, water, masks, sanitiser, along with a thermometer and oximeter for the whole journey but the motorway services were open. Croissant and coffee for breakfast. We sat at a public table, the first time for three months.

With no hotels open we agreed to share the driving for the 1,600km journey. We also agreed that we’d take plenty of rests. We crossed the Italian border at Mont Blanc. We just drove through.

On Monday we received news that the aunt of a friend of ours, Gino, had past away, aged 99. Gino couldn’t get to the funeral. As we drove past her village near Parma we slowed down a little, opened the window and blew her a kiss from Gino. Ciao zia Valentina.

Several espresso stops later we arrived at our Italian home, 22 hours after we’d left London.

We’d been away for seven months, the longest time we’ve not been to the house since we bought it in 2003. One of the reasons for coming this week was so that Colin could ride the final two Stages of the Giro di Muscoli (now postponed to September) on their originally planned dates, finishing on the 21st June, Global MND Awareness Day.

As you can imagine nature has been re-establishing itself both inside and out.The house has been cleaned from top to bottom and now we’re working on the land.

The shed roof blew off during the winter so we now have a very Italian style temporary solution; the hedge at the front had run wild so took hours to give to give it a hair cut; evidence of a snake making itself at home whilst we were away; a mountain of grass cuttings; the vines needed thinning to give the grapes more sunlight.

It’s all worth it though…

Time to move on

Photo: St. Katharine Docks, one of our destinations whilst taking our exercise walks

Our London Lockdown is coming to an end. At least we hope so. It’s all subject to President Macron’s speech to the nation on Sunday evening. Unless there is a surprise in store we’re booked to drive to Cartoceto on Wednesday. The Italian border is open, we just need the French border to open on Monday as announced.

Our lockdown hasn’t been too bad. We have at least been able to get out for exercise and help people out at the same time. We are both NHS Volunteer Responders. It’s fair to say that our experienced has been mixed. Colin has had a few tasks, but then they tailed off. Jan’s experience was very different. So far she has had calls to assist people from Yeovil to Nottingham. On the rare occasion she got got calls from people in London they all said they didn’t request any help or that they’ve been helped by someone else. Frustrating.

Colin has been out every week on a cargo bike collecting for a food bank in Islington. Riding with ICC team mates, we managed to recruit 27 riders in total. The team is now collecting twice a day. Lunchtime is the veggie run, the evening is the bakery run.

Jan has started running again after more than a year off following her mad 2,018km challenge in 2018 for Alzheimer’s research. She re-graduated from Couch to 5K and is now running 3 or 4 times a week.

On non running or riding days we’ve been out for walks, mostly in and around the very quiet City. Its been a joy to see the City so quiet but we’d be happy to see the people back again. Sometimes it’s been like walking through a zombie film set with not a soul about.

It’s not all been exercise. We’ve been enjoying our vast expanse of outdoor space. A 1m x 3m balcony for lunch, dinner and cocktails.

Just like so many others we’ve been using our time to sort out our nest. We’ve completed our annual clear out. One room at a time we’ve emptied everything. If we’ve not used something for a year then we get rid of it, clean the room with an inch of it’s life then decide where everything goes.

Jan has also been re-painting the apartment. She’s had a particularly frustrating time with one wall in particular. You can read how she has cleverly weaved the story of the wall into her running blog at jancanrun.

One thing we’ve had plenty of time to discuss is what do we do after Brexit? Our choice is visit Casa Angeletti as tourists under the Schengen arrangements which would limit us to 90 days in any rolling 180 days. This puts paid to us spending the summers in Italy and the winters in London as we could only stay for 3 months at a time.

If we want to stay for longer we have to become resident. Peculiar to Italy residents are not allowed to own foreign registered cars, so we’d have to either register the car as Italian (expensive as we have to modify the lighting clusters etc. for driving on the right) or sell it and buy an Italian car. And we have to change our driving, licenses to Italian ones. And pay a lot more tax. Fewer rights and increased costs. Thank you Brexit.

We have a few months to decide. Shall we visit our own home as tourists or do we become resident?

VE Day 75th anniversary

To commemorate the 75th anniversary of VE Day, two minutes silence at 11:00 and a ‘1940s Gin Cocktail’ on the balcony before dinner. The recipe for the cocktail is from the Bletchley Park website.

City of London Gin, fresh lime juice, bitter lemon over ice.


Just a perfect day

Photo: Bubbles on the balcony

What would you do if your birthday fell in the midst of a global lockdown? Have a lie in of course. Another one.

Not if your uncle, aunt and cousin live in New Zealand you don’t. The phone went off at 8 o’clock. No way were we going to answer a video call whilst still in bed. Reject call. They try again. Reject call. Send message. “We’ll call you back”.

It was worth the ridiculously early start. My family had made a birthday cake with 6 candles. One for each decade.

On the count of three, I blew and amazingly the candles went out 11,000 miles away

When the Kiwis came to Italy they learnt the delights of a Moretta. It’s a liqueur coffee drink only available in Fano, Marche. Jill in particular loves it. As we were celebrating Colin’s 60th then they felt obliged to make two each to match the candles.

During the lock down I’ve kept my cycling to shorter local routes. Very local when using a trainer on the balcony. Many of my real life rides were collecting for a food bank and shopping/collecting medicine as an NHS Volunteer Responder. Today was just for me. An appropriate 60km including some country roads. It was sunny and wonderful be out on a near normal ride. I say near normal. Last year I cycled 13,000 km with an average of 139km per ride. This year, my average is 57km. Everything is different in 2020.

The day ended with bubbles on the balcony and a photo shoot. Hardly a professional shoot but as we dressed up for dinner we decided to take photos for our over 60s free London buss/tube/train pass. Jan is not keen on her photo being taken.

Dinner was a take away from Orasay. They included a couple of candles for the dessert, which was a nice touch.

An after dinner call with my brother in Hingham, Massachusetts bookended the day with family calls.

A huge thank you for all the birthday wishes I received from all over the world. In keeping with a global pandemic, they arrived by post, email, telephone calls, text, conference calls, WhatsApp, Facebook, Messenger, and Strava.

A perfect (pandemic) day.

Tick Tock

Photo: We discovered a footpath under the famous bridge with no one around

Just like everybody else we’re counting down the time when we will have a little more freedom. Life for us in lockdown isn’t too bad. We’re used to each other’s company and we’re a lot better off than most.

We’ve tried to use the time to help out. Ever wanted to do more but bureaucracy got in the way? The old normal is still with us.

NHS Volunteer Responder programme

As soon as it was announced, we signed up. The technology hasn’t always worked as well as we hoped. It took a while to get Colin some tasks as his location showed as being in the Gulf of Guinea, off the coast of Ghana. Once Colin was safely re-located back to London a few tasks came in. On his bike, he was out buying food and collecting medicine for older people in isolation. Cycling and helping others, what’s not to like?

It hasn’t gone so well for Jan. She’s frustrated as she’s only received three requests for help. As they were from people in St Leonard’s-On-Sea, Nottingham and Yeovil they were all a little too far to help with the shopping.

Colin got a request yesterday from someone 300m away. At least Jan is off the mark as we combined our exercise walk with buying some food for a Barbican resident in isolation. We received this message of thanks, which makes the frustration worthwhile:

NHS Blood donation

We’ve both re-signed up to give blood. We did it at the same time using the same process. They responded to Colin, his first appointment is the 6th May. Nothing for Jan, not even an acknowledgement. Jan’s beginning to think it’s her.

Food bank Collection

One of our cycling friends, Cliff, has been collecting food from local bakeries and greengrocers at the end of the day’s trading and taking to a community food bank. I joined Cliff and a few others. We then publicised the scheme within Islington Cycling Club (ICC) and we now have a rota of enough riders that we only have to do it once a week each. Great to see so many cyclists coming forward to help.

Colin & Jyde doing the rounds in Muswell Hill, Highgate and Swain’s Lane.

We’ve also been looking after ourselves.

Jan has started running again after more than a year off with injury. She’s out every other day, re-doing the Couch to 5K programme she did in 2017. She’s also back to recording her running adventures at

Having bought a trainer just before they sold out, Colin is combining short, local rides in London, with training rides on the balcony. The trainer means that Colin can join virtual rides with both ICC and the Pansèrs in Italy.

We would normally be in Italy by now, but we just have to be patient. We will have to wait until the borders are open and we can drive through France to Le Marche. Tick tock.

The big day

Photo: Not quite what we had in mind

Jan’s big day. We were supposed to be in Tel Aviv for Jan’s special birthday. SARS-CoV-2 had other ideas. Instead of a boutique hotel for a week and a top end dinner on her birthday we had English sparkling wine on the balcony and dinner at home. I offered to cook for her, but no one gets to use Jan’s kitchen!

The good news is that Jan can apply for a free bus/tube pass, the bad news is she is not allowed to use them!

Colin’s birthday gift plan now scuppered, he had to improvise. A quick online order whilst we still could arrived just in time. It was just for fun. Jan is a fan. It made her smile on her birthday and that’s what matters:

We will have to celebrate later in the year. Our flights have been re-booked for July but we’re not sure we’ll be allowed to fly even then. Who knows. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Happy Birthday darling.

Really Quite Interesting

Photo: Just queuing in the rain

If we had bucket lists, this would be on Colin’s.

To watch an episode of QI being recorded.

Series R. Restaurants. The first rows of seats were set out like restaurant tables. We were behind them in row 4. We didn’t get any food. Nor did they.

If you’ve ever wondered how long it takes to record a 30 minute show then, based on this evening, about 2 hours. We watched an extra bit being recorded for Sport Relief before getting to the main event of the evening. The panelists were Sara Pascoe, Mark Watson, Phil Jupitus and, of course, Alan Davies.

Colin has been a fan of QI since it started. I was smug as hell when I got the ‘riddler’ question, even predicting what Sandi Toksvig would have a go at. All I can tell you is that my sommelier qualification came in handy. Sandi was really taken by it “I’m so happy”. You will have to watch to find out what popped her cork.

After the recordings the production company have to edit all they have recorded into a show suitable for broadcast. Much of the 90 minutes of recording that won’t make the show was very funny but just not suitable for the BBC. Stuff that won’t make it included working practices at McDonald’s, calling Piers Morgan the C word and wanking into sandwiches.

A really enjoyable night out. We’re looking forward to seeing what does get broadcast.

Cladding scandal

We attended a demonstration today outside Parliament highlighting the scandal that is inflammable cladding on hundreds, if not thousands of buildings in the UK, including ours.

Also in attendance were:

  1. Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester
  2. Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London
  3. Tom Copley AM, Deputy Mayor of London for Housing
  4. John Healey, Shadow Housing Secretary and MP for Wentworth and Dearne
  5. Paul Dennett, Mayor of Salford and Chair of the Greater Manchester High-Rise Task Force
  6. Hilary Benn MP, Leeds Central, Labour
  7. Justin Madders MP, Ellesmere Port and Neston and APPG co-chair, Labour
  8. Sir Peter Bottomley MP, Worthing Weet and APPG co-chair, Conservative
  9. Tom Hunt MP, Ipswich, Conservative
  10. Siobhan Benita, Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of London
  11. Baroness Kramer, Liberal Democrat and former minister
  12. Lucy Powell MP, Manchester Central, Labour 
  13. Jim McMahon MP, Oldham West and Royton, Labour
  14. Matthew Pennycook MP, Greenwich and Woolwich, Labour
  15. Apsana Begum MP, Poplar and Limehouse, Labour
  16. Fleur Anderson MP, Putney, Labour
  17. Shabana Mahmood MP, Birmingham Ladywood, Labour
  18. Rupa Huq MP, Ealing Central and Acton, Labour 
  19. Graham Stringer MP, Blackley and Broughton, Labour
  20. Marsha de Cordova MP, Battersea, Labour
  21. Sam Tarry MP, Ilford South, Labour
  22. Florence Eshalomi MP, Vauxhall, Labour
  23. Abena Oppong-Asare MP, Erith and Thamesmead, Labour
  24. Afzal Khan MP, Manchester Gorton, Labour
  25. Mike Kane MP, Wythenshawe & Sale East, Labour
  26. Navendu Mishra MP, Stockport, Labour

We then attended a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Leasehold and Commonhold Reform in one of the Committee rooms.