Well we’ve reached that time of year where the ‘orto’ is now cleared of all edible elements, except for three of my failed yellow onions which now seem to be enjoying the colder weather and have put out strong foliage, and my rhubarb, which is looking even more spindly than through the Summer months. (The ‘carciofi’ have put on a bit of growth as well, despite us being in the wrong growing zone, but I don’t want to say this too loudly in case they realise and stop growing!) With the go ahead received on our house refurbishment, and a couple of small ‘Winter proofing’ projects to get under way we have been immersed in the Internet recently, researching all manner of things – various drainage options for our rainwater run-off from the house roof so we can collect it in our ‘pozzo’, ‘canne fumarie’ (chimney flues) lengths and angles so we can finally get the ‘stufa’ up and running to bring some warmth into the kitchen which we are currently using as our office, and trying to understand why we can’t find armoured cable to bury in the ground (apparently they don’t use it here in Italy – our builders’ merchant thought it was a good idea though!)
With temperatures occasionally hitting zero overnight, our first project was to insulate our mains water pipe … all 250metres of it. When we first connected to the supply in April, we happily snaked this pipe around trees, down bankings and along the ‘canale’ at the side of the road without a care in the world, just glad of a clean water supply. But unless we want to resort to eating snow or boiling our own pee for sustenance throughout the Winter months we needed to do something a little more permanent. The 11th November is the day of San Martino and there is a saying that if the day is dry enough to gather your wood, then it will be a cold Winter – and it was an absolutely glorious day of sunshine so we needed to get on with our work, sharpish!
The first job was to locate this pipe, now hidden under thick, wet mud, tightly knitted grass and some ferocious looking brambles, pull it free and note where the joints were. We’d decided to turn the water off at the mains in our neighbour’s driveway so we could re-lay the pipe where it would be dug into the ground, split the joints, slip 50 individual pieces of insulation tubing onto each 100metre length of pipe, refit the joints, turn on the water, pray the joints were tight enough and remember that when we were back in the caravan that evening the first person to open one of the taps up would likely be sprayed with water from the massive air lock we’d just created.
After a couple of trips to Bricoman at Genova, a stock glitch (I know things get lost in translation sometimes but 142 pieces of insulation in stock on a website isn’t 61 in the warehouse in any language!), a complaint, an apology and a discount, the pipe was now insulated and running along the correct route. The insulation will certainly help keep the water running as the temperatures drop, but burying it in the ground, at around half a metre deep, means those temperatures could potentially drop further without affecting our supply. Because we needed to run it through our next door neighbour’s land, and along some pretty narrow and precarious ‘fasce’ we decided to forego the excavator, and do it by hand … boy that was a great idea for a relaxing couple of weeks! With the temperature around 4 degrees Celsius on a morning through this cold spell, we’ve been layering ourselves up before we hit the outside, picking up our various tools and walking up the road to where we’re working. However, with all the digging being done in the sun, we’ve been peeling off these layers like a couple of onions throughout the day as we get hotter and hotter, but finish the evening with a super-quick dressing session as we throw everything back on in the dark … the minute we stopped working, the cold crept up pretty fast!
After a week in, we were over half way … which at least meant we we’re off our neighbour’s land and wouldn’t have our audience of her donkey and two ponies as we worked … although they did seem very interested in what we were doing! And we’d got into a good rhythm … marking the trench, digging out the top sod, then both of us starting out at opposite ends to dig out the rest of the soil, hopefully meeting in the middle. Then we’d drop the pipe into place, take a few photos to show where the pipe is for future reference, fill in with the soil, add a strip of ‘caution–water’ tape (or in our case ‘attenzione tubo acqua’) at a suitable depth, and finish filling the trench, usually in the dark. I’ve left out the many water breaks we had (did I mention we we’re in full sun?), the frequent swearing when we hit a tree root, the only occasional argument (impressive eh?) and the huffing and puffing at the beginning of each day when our muscles loved to remind us what good memories they had (although after a week’s digging we had muscle premonition never mind muscle memory!)
The remaining half was all through long grass and down a steep slope, but we battled on, sustained by mugs of tea and the odd choccie biccie. We only had one casualty, one of my old spades …I thought it was just the sound of my back creaking every time I shovelled up a pile of earth until I realised the wooden handle was loosening in the metal joint of the spade … so that was retired and a younger, newer model bought to replace it (the spade … not me!) Although the last two days Marcus was left to go it alone as I was full of a head cold and felt dizzy every time I bent over, but I excelled at hot food and drink duty and cheered as he headed for the finish line with one final flick of his rake last night as the light faded. A quick check this morning and everything looked ‘a posto’ so we put a line through that job on our list with a flourish. I’m guessing it was less than five minutes before Marcus started scribbling on a piece of paper. ‘What are you doing?’ I asked. ‘Just drawing up the bits for the chimney flue’ he replied, ‘It’s the next job’.
No rest for the wicked … or even those with a cold … now, where’s the paracetamol?!