The Hills are alive…….

…….With the sound of me sleeping deeply, despite the chorus of Frogs that starts up nightly – around the time I plan to retire to my little cabin down by the ecological pool.

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Some of you will have seen these pics before on Facebook! Sorry for the repetition! Since I last posted here – is it really a month ago? – I have been in London,  been to a lovely two-day wedding in the glorious Berks/Wilts countryside and had a short but sweet meeting with a few of my ex-inmates from drama school. Some 40 years ago (how is that possible?).
This ecological pool – pure water – has a filtration system (just about visible at right) with reeds, gravel and other stuff that filters the water – and feeds the frogs!! Lying in the water against the rubberised and very slippery sides, I imagine I’m resting against a large whale.

But enough of such treats; for the last couple of weeks I have been back in Umbria – this time not as a “workaway” labourer, simply as a house-sitter. Not that I lack for things to do.  Edith & Willem (the owners) are back in Holland for a visit and meantime, I am overseeing the place – and being there for a delightful Belgian family who are occupying the two little apartments that lie down the hill,  behind and below my little hut as pictured above.  I see them at the pool most days, but otherwise, we maintain separate existences and I hope not to hear from them unless there are any problems.  So far, so good.

My other duties consist of opening up and closing various parts of the property : the laundry room / shower area and the storage caves. The recycling & rubbish bins area.  I walk UP the hill and tap on the large (drinking) water tank. As long as it sounds at least half full,  it’s OK.  Go DOWN the hill. Halfway to the gate lies another tank (non-drinking water). There is a large pole you could vault with – marked off in depths and the water   needs to reach at least 1.5 metres on it, or more will have to be bought in!

Amazingly, you can order water by the tanker and (as happened last week) Luciano and his elderly father will arrive and deposit 8000 litres for (I presume) a fair price!  Then DOWN again, by the main gate, is a pump house – the one that sends the drinking water from the mains on the track outside all the way up to the top tank!  The pump here must be checked for regular and auto operations!

Water the plants – that takes at least an hour at sun-down. Plant some new ones when it’s not so hot. Top up the water in the pool (evaporation in this heat takes its toll) and even put the little cleaning machine into the pool to hoover away to its heart’s content. Not that the end result seems any different to my amateur eyes.

As I check everything over, before bed, I don’t expect to hear rustling in the bushes behind the house – neither do I expect this :

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Not my picture ! I surely wouldn’t be feeding this Italian porcupine. Who knew they were so big – this is the size of a large cat. And yes, they do shake their bristles at you when surprised. As surprised as I was when it appeared in the light of my iPhone’s torch!

Happily, it wanted just to go away and I was happy to follow. its lead.  At a safe distance – with a large swimming pool squeegee thing in hand – to make sure it headed south down the hill and not into the pool area and towards my hut.  Remembering that I won’t be sleeping with the door open any more ! ( a quick Google also reveals that these quills can kill humans!).

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In between such duties, I know not how I find time to wander, but I do.  Every which way you look, there is another little town on a hill – rather, a little village ( though I love the word citta – the c is a ‘ch’ by the way). Few things make me happier than following my nose around the Tuscan and Umbrian hillsides seeking out new views and new places. Here’s a few of the local sights as I drive about :

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This place – Ficulle – has an enormous street light just for the one tower in the centre!

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Here : a typically ancient and yet magical passage leading down the the basement below a town-house in Ficulle. If it didn’t have a gate I’d be snooping down there!

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Almost hard to spot, but looking across the valley  from the “white” road that leads home to Alsietto Cielo (7th Heaven) : you can just see Parrano – a little village I had lunch in some 10 years ago, as chance would have it.  Of all the cittas in all of Umbria…………..

The lawyer handling a property my then boss was buying locally was based in Rome but had a country house in Parrano – and invited us to lunch. He did NOT mention that his family (and the family of the Prince of Parrano) owned most of this little citta! – with Palazzos to match.

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This useless pic ! shows all of Parrano; the De Sanctis residences at the far right : 3 red markers!

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One of the streets that bear the family’s name and part of the Palazzo : I couldn’t get the front and was too shy to ring the bell and try to explain who I was :

“Scuse. Io non parlo Italiano bene…”  is my usual opening gambit. You should hear me with Vodaphone Italy trying to sort a problem, or sharing chats with Lucio the water deliverer or simply shopping for bread or provisions.  To say my language skills are shaky would be generous. But that always leaves room for improvement. I can usually understand what they are telling me even though what I say in response rarely elicits more than a blank stare of incomprehension…..
I was looking into the name De Sanctis – derived from an early ancestor considered a holy or sacred man (Latin for holy = sanctus). Another early ancestor waged war against Inghilterra in the 10th century. Must have lost…..

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And so, to Cortona.  Maybe you are familiar with the film “Under the Tuscan Sun” ?  A very romanticised version of a novel by Frances Mayes. Set in the country near this lovely Etruscan city. When I was last here (4 years ago?) the streets seemed to be full of US ladies of a certain age, following in the footsteps of Frances!  That time seems to have passed somewhat; Cortona is still quite a tourist spot – but not when compared with Florence or Pisa and it is small enough to be walked in a couple of hours. It is also VERY hilly, so the moment you leave the (one) main street, you also leave the tourists behind.

I could wander the paths and alleyways all day, barely seeing a soul, but there are so many little galleries, churches and a great Etruscan museum to see. Not to mention cafes and places just to sit , eat and people-watch.  My favourite occupations.

cortoviewFrom Cortona : no-one approaches without being seen…..

 

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The wonderful Town Hall – and its steps – meeting point for so many modern-day Romeos & Juliets ! And look at that beautiful sky.

And across the square, my favoured loggia and its restaurant,  from where I can watch the watchers…….

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Not that I need an excuse but the only AA meeting (in English) between Rome and Florence takes place here on Mondays, so I shall be returning for another trip next week.

***

Last week – as I climbed the steep and long drive up to the house (in my loaned Suzuki Jeep) I chased a badger along the track. He flashed out almost under my front wheels. Who knew they could scoot so fast? I don’t think he/she did! Then last night, the spiky visitor.

Did I mention the feral cat who visits daily?  Who silently meows at me, dancing on his front paws – and warily approaches the bowl I put out. So far he seems to prefer egg and cooked pasta. NOT interested in the premium dry food I bought for him. Indeed, the biggest success so far – for him – was to shoot into the kitchen (whilst I was putting something out back)  and make off with an entire pack of 6 (six!) croissants I was planning for several breakfasts.  As my sister said, he must have been hungry!

I just hope he disposed of the plastic bag thoughtfully; the Italians, in common with many other countries, are keen to stop us using such things.  I didn’t see him then for two days.  I keep trying with the ‘proper” food – he just eats round it……..

So……….it’s back to that pool lounger before the sun goes down.  Can’t recall the last time I actually “sun-bathed”. I don’t do it in Australia at all. But it’s a tough life in the tropics.

Love & Light folks.

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Driving down Memory Lane…….

Lesson One : do NOT assume that people will be helpful.
Car hire (cheap) at Gatwick Airport was not remotely interested that I had lost both driving licences in Rome. Despite what the T&C’s say, they will NOT make that call to the licensing department (for $25). So no physical licence, no car.

(Incidentally, don’t lose anything at Rome Station; there is no Lost property office – despite being shown on the website – and the Police (to whom you “must” report the loss), lurk un-signed at the farthest extreme of Platform One and are not remotely interested either!.

Lesson One (continued): deal with the car hire companies with a reputation to maintain. A ten minute conversation back at Gatwick Airport and a quick phone call to the licence people and I was on my Honda-ed way.

***

So I have missed the meeting arranged, and have little to do until much later, so the Memory Minions remind me that I pass through Croydon in saath Lundun.  Not born but somewhat bred there, from the age of 4 or so till I left home in my teens.  Croydon is directly south of London – halfway to or from Gatwick Airport and it rates a mention in the history books from around 800.  Even features in the Domesday Book.
On the other hand, SOUTH Croydon – where I lived – is a much later (Victorian) suburb that grew as the railways pushed commuting further out from central London. It has little of historic note: see this local tourism information:

Landmarks of South Croydon include:

  • The former Swan and Sugarloaf public house, now a branch of Tesco Metro.
  • The former Red Deer public house, now a branch of My Local
  • St Peter’s Church (designed by George Gilbert Scott)
  • St Augustine’s Church
  • South Croydon Bus Garage

2 ex-pubs, 2 churches, a bus garage and a school where all the posh gits went!
I knew the Red Deer PH well in my youth, not as a drinker, but the biggest local landmark where you got off the bus. Unless you had already gotten off at the bus garage (see also above) since either was was a walking route home to Pampisford Road.

I didn’t know who George Gilbert Scott was back then – now I believe he is the son of Giles Gilbert Scott (similarly an architect and designer) – he (Giles) is the man who designed that classic Red Telephone Box and what is now the Tate Modern Gallery on London’s South Bank (formerly the Bankside Power Station)  and, of course, Battersea Power Station. I don’t know what else George designed!

Oh, the connections memory makes! On this same drive I will pass by Battersea – the opposite side of the river Thames from Dolphin Square, where I lved for 20 years. The scale of residential development (inc. the Power Station) is striking and impressive. A far cry from the dereliction that the area displayed when I first lived nearby and cycled or jogged streets still cobbled in the 2000s. Now every warehouse is a “new york style” loft!

But back to Croydon. Must we? I know what you mean…… Pampisford is a village in Cambridgeshire (also ancient) and why the name is used here I cannot establish. But at 177 Pampisford Road is the Catholic primary school of Regina Coeli. A winning place!

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Twas not always so!  Though I remember it with fondness now, it was not a rich school back in the day. My father was the School Caretaker, so we lived on site, in what had once been stables for the main Victorian house. They are long gone, and a new wing stands near their place, though the house remains – smaller, of course than I remember it!

Terrible pictures, I know; my feeble attempt at blocking out parked cars which were impossible to avoid!  SO many cars! I can’t recall if there were ANY back in the 50s – apart from a big old school coach. But I suppose the nuns who came and went from their convent had to be transported somehow. If you’d asked the young Jim Flynn how they travelled, I’d probably have said by broomstick!

Actually, no. I have quite happy memories of those Infant/Junior  schooldays – so much so that 20 years later, as a budding Actor and Teacher of Drama & English, I returned to Regina Coeli for teaching “practice” and worked briefly with the lady who had been my top form teacher (and whose ‘teacher’s pet’ I had been!).

A kindly secretary let me in the (security) gates and was surprised to learn that there had been a stable block, or a giant metal fire escape along the side of the building – where the new wing now attaches. Alas, there are now NO NUNS at all – she seemed quite pleased about that!  She congratulated me on being in Australia – since England was now swamped with immigrants and the whole place (it seems) is going to the dogs! I fled shortly after, since she was looking for affirmation of such views and I had none to give.

But there’s another of those strange “connections”. I’m reminiscing over Regina Coeli (Queen of Heaven in Latin) school. In a few days time I return to my Italian friends to house-sit at Al Settimo Cielo – 7th Heaven  in today’s Italian!

As for “immigrants”, I’ve been back in London for 2 weeks and am greatly cheered by its cosmopolitan, mixed and vibrant feel.  I was not sure, though, quite how to react on a rather crowded tube (subway) train as I headed centrally. Standing room only – though not quite sardines in the middle of the day. A tall and powerfuly built Rastafarian young man, with ear phones and dreadlocks, leant across two people to tap me on the arm and enquire if I would like to sit down? Sometimes my perception of me (young, carefree) must be an odds with the outside world (old man with a large bag)!
I thanked him of course, but kept standing.

Now, please don’t think this macabre, but leaving the school northwards took me past the cemetery where my father is buried. A long time ago – 1968 to be precise. As I drew nearer I realised I could not pass by without saying Hello.  Skip this bit if it seems odd, by all means. My connection with my father – I was a rebellious, unhappy and truanting teenager –  was not good, and for more years than I care to remember, everything was his fault! Now I am around the age he was when he died, and I realise a few things:

a) It wasn’t. We all do the best we can with what we have.
That’s Lesson Two, by the way!
b) I don’t envy him trying to bring up 6 kids in the strange 1960s.
c) I wish I had had a better relationship with him.

But I’ve told him all that on previous visits to this cemetary across the years and we are – as far as I can tell – at peace with each other. He has a great grave-stone!


This piece of granite with a simple brass plate stands higher than all the other graves around – easy to spot after an absence of several years – and has weathered well.
My siblings and I were permitted to dig a hole and had it craned in some years back to remedy the many years when Charlie Flynn’s resting place had no marker!
It has – if you look closer- a little niche at the top that is perfect hand height for me to stand and rest a while and chat.  A couple working not 10 feet away were attending the man’s mother’s grave – sweeping and raking the usual low-level stone chips surface, while I needed to perform no maintenance at all, simply to stand and wait.
They also serve………..

***

I’m staying for some days – before I return to Italy for another house-sit – in a friend’s apartment in an area they like to call Telegraph Hill. It is really New Cross Gate, but much different from before. Gentrification! 2 Bed apartment ? 800,000 pounds. A 3 storey house ? Try 1.8 million.  (I have no ‘pound’ symbol on this keyboard).

Yikes!  There was a time – not THAT many years ago – when New Cross was an area on the Old Kent Road (the main route out of London to where I lived after I left home).  Here you did not stop and you made sure the car doors were locked! Now it bustles and hustles, with a big super-store and quite a collection of pavement cafes.

We are walking distance, too, of Greenwich – home of the ubiquitous “mean time” and of course an important town and docks area throughout history and Rule Brittannia. I never tire of this view : the magnificent Queen’s House, the Naval College beyond and across the river, the towers of Canary Wharf. For those who don’t know London, this area lies east of the “city” of London and Greenwich is on the south side of the River Thames!  If you visit, I urge you to take a river boat trip from Westminster down to Greenwich and then return on the DLR (railway) or vice versa. There’s a wonderfully atmospheric (and old) foot tunnel that crosses under the river and always makes me walk faster as footsteps behind echo in a rather horror-filmic way!

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I know I am in the right place when I walk down the road and turn a corner to see this street before me :

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As you can see, some mistaken grammarian (is that even a word?) has stickered an apostrophe between the “e” and the “s” – which would make my name Jame !
Pedant that I am, I might have to go back and move it, so it reads James’ or I might even have to confuse them all further and add and “s” so we would have James’s.

And how to finish a visit to Greenwich by the water?
A : To be eaten by a fish, perhaps ?

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This extraordinary copper fish wobbles in a rather unnerving way as you climb and sit it – I hasten to add it is designed for the purpose, you just can’t see the steps in this shot.

Or B : to eat the fish?

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No mushy peas available ! Not that my friend Shay needed them since we was eating Pie and not fish!  I noticed afterwards the establishment was called Mrs Lovett’s. That’s a musical theatre joke for those who can be bothered.

And on that note (!) I will send love and light till the next time. x

PS : Talking of love – has everyone noticed Ringo Starr’s posting?  Urging us all to chant “Peace & Love” at noon local time this Friday 7th July? Wherever we are  in the world?
I’m in……………………..