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.

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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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James’s end of the World in 2012

Well Hello one and All

From Sydney Australia – well not quite – from Woy Woy NSW. Yes really……

and for those who I have not been much in touch with this year, my apologies and my regrets. Finally, here is an update and boy, it has been a year (or two) full of change and exciting upheavals:Image!

No – I have not become a born-again Mormon preacher, neither am I rehearsing for The Crucible (a play, incidentally, which if I never saw again, would be too soon!).

No – I shall be appearing en plein air come the Autumn (UK Spring) in a theatrical event celebrating and reenacting something about the building of the Great North Road (from Sydney to the Hunter Valley). Built entirely by hand, using Convict labour for 10 years  in the 1820s and 1830s it was redundant as it was completed, due to the discovery of steam transportation which meant paddle steamers. So the road was largely unused and is in great shape. I shall expand on that in another Blog!

So, as ever I digress : the sun has returned today, after what they say was the wettest Christmas in memory. certainly it rained solidly from Christmas Eve in the afternoon till the night-time on Christmas Day!  Which made travelling for Xmas lunch a touch dreary, but on the other hand, our water tank – where we collect rain water for the garden etc. and which was 2/3 empty – is now completely full.

I am living here:

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288 Burge Road  Woy Woy 2256 NSW.   I attach a few more shots, with no apologies. I am inordinately proud of the fact that I am looking after a proper garden and am actually growing tomatoes, peas and pumpkins – from seed! Something I have never attempted and – as you will see – the tomatoes at least are coming along well. So, a couple more shots of the front and rear “gardens” – though we use the term loosely. Tis mostly sandy soil, paving and bricks, though I have cleared a little space or two for lawn at the back, which will be turfed very soon.

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Now to the back :

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This is looking across at my little ‘Granny” flat – the next a reverse shot showing where there will be lawn and also the rear carport, featuring a semi-shot of Brenda’s new electric tricycle!!

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And last but not least, my veggie and duck garden! The previous owner here had something of a passion for stone ducks and for weeks after moving in, I was finding ducks behind stones, under plants and all over. I decided that they should be en famille, so to speak and this is the sunniest corner of the back yard, hence it is also perfect for tomatoes – please take a moment to admire them. You can’t see the peas or pumpkin – yet.Image

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I surprised myself with the erection of this self-made A frame to support the tomatoes – forgive an old geezer’s indulgence!!

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Anyway, the earlier Blogs came to a fairly sudden close back in January this year when I returned from Napier (NZ) to make my last Visa renewal, and there were no problems when I returned to Oz.  I see I started to Draft Blog in June and got side-tracked (too much going on) so I must bring you up to speed – and explain what has been going on.

The first and biggest news – if you haven’t already heard – is that I plan now to stay in Australia for the foreseeable future.  I have been living since I arrived (May 2011) with an old and dear friend – Brenda Lea – no, not the singer, for those old enough to remember her, and “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree. Anyway, she was Brenda Lee and is older even than Brenda and me!

Brenda and I were at Drama School in Sidcup, suburban London sooo long ago it hurts (Ok, mid 1970s) and have been best buddies ever since, though she couldn’t work acting in the UK and i couldn’t in Oz. But we kept in  touch, I did go first to Oz in the mid 80s with a play and we always joked that when we reached our dotage (and we have!) we should hitch our wagons together and ride off into the sunset. Unless of course, we had someone else to do that with by then.

Well we didn’t and we have. Hitched the wagons, metaphorically that is, but not yet ridden into the sunset, but moved to Woy Woy. And settled into companionship, support and mutual admiration (hmm, sometimes).

After I had been living with Brenda for a year we applied for a Sponsor Visa which was granted in September so now I am allowed to stay and to work.  It is called a “temporary” Visa but on the assumption that nothing will have changed in two years time, it will become “Permanent” more of less straightforwardly. Three years later Citizenship is a possibility.

Well, if that has come as a surprise to you – imagine what it did to me and to Brenda.  Fate, God, the Furies, the devil’s sense of humour certainly can come up with some unexpected events.  You know, I realised in retrospect that when I first came here in 1985 my heart told me to stay. But my head told me I still had stardom, fame and fortune waiting back “home” so back I went. Somewhere along the line those goals eluded me and though I came and went again several times, it took 25 years for the fates to properly align again!! I can highly recommend going with the flow (in fate’s terms).

GardenXmas2012 014This is Brenda about to take our little foundling poodle – Rimsky – for a walk tonight. She will NOT thank me for the shot where (if you look closely) she is wearing her “poodle patterned” casual slacks!!

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Woy Woy lies on Brisbane Water – a large inlet from the ocean into the Hawkesbury River,  50 miles or so north of Sydney. It is a quiet backwater – if you visited me at Seaford  before I left England, it would not feel so different. Architectural styles nothwithstanding, it is a little run-down – too many charity shops, too many old dears (I suppose that includes me and Bren now!)  Too many low-income kids with their own kids. But people are nice enough and it is about the same travel time from Sydney as (say) Brighton is from London. And this little house is a better proposition in terms of space and location than would be the case were we closer to the City centre.

Spike Milligan’s parents retired here – there is even a footbridge over the water named in his honour – though I doubt many current residents would have any idea who he was! The Goon Shows are so far in the past, even I heard about them from an older generation! Though I often wonder if some of the place names around here inspired him:

Woy Woy is aboriginal and may mean Big Lagoon! Then there is Mooney Mooney,  Tumbi Umbi, Ku-Ring-Gai and Wyong.  Though we also have Blackwall – named for the Thameside suburb, Brooklyn and Copacabana!  There’s even a little place called Tascott – which took its name from the first owner of the land – called Thomas Alison Scott!  Rumoured to be the first man in Oz to grow sugar cane.  Sweet.

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This is a random “bush” photo taken a little inland – typical of the wild and woody nature of what surrounds all the cities in this SE corner of the continent. It would have looked much like this when the first Europeans arrived.

One of the most fascinating things about Australia is that, whilst the powers-that-be in London considered it a Penal Colony, the first few Governors and many of the free immigrants took a different and more humane view. Though you might well have been transported here (often for a very petty offence), the application of hard work and perseverance could lead you not only to freedom but to a grant of land and eventually the sort of comfort that would never have been possible back in the motherland. There are a myriad stories of forgers becoming eminent managers of the Mint, convicts becoming Police Chiefs and female convicts becoming Bank founders!!

I am absorbed and intrigued by much of it and – if it interests you, I recommend you read The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes, a first rate modern re-examination of the journey out and the realities of coming here.  And for a contemporary and on-the-spot report written by a young Marine officer who arrived with the First Fleet in 1788, but saw the land and the native residents with reality and humanity, search for ‘A Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay’ by Watkin Tench. I will happily lend a copy to anyone really keen.

So now I can work and I have fossicked around and retrieved some of the many hats I have worn over recent years.   Event and exhibition work has been coming my way – largely as an MC and/or Compere introducing and bantering with the stars of a popular TV show and live event called Better Homes & Gardens (think Ideal Home Show) and Masterchef – a version which you have in the UK too.

In addition I have registered with acting and extra agencies and have managed a few paid jobs and several small independent films so far. Paradoxically, both the first two jobs featured booze (beer and then Wild Turkey bourbon respectively) which will amuse those who know how much booze I ingest these days!!  then i have been an irascible school-teacher, an old letcher (don’t ask!), a wedding guest and of course (the highlight of my acting year) –  Santa Claus for the delight of the kids in a posh North Sydney suburb (think Golders Green). Think Debenhams and you’d get an idea of my actual work location though.

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My cousin Jim Sweeney summed it up with the comment that it was ‘a part you were born to play” confusing Santa, I think with Ebenezer Scrooge in his dotage! Though to my surprise and delight, I think I may be becoming Scrooge AFTER the various visitations; you know the one that actually likes Tiny Tim!  Tell that to the old JC!

(Sorry for the bedroom shot, incidentally; the shot was taken at a highly secret extra appearance by special request at Brenda’s family Christmas do where the various great-nephews and nieces were completely boggled to have a real live Santa of their own!) Left to my own devices I would have posted the entire costume and “Santa Belly” back to its owners by now.

Otherwise, I have been fortunate in creating a little network of Poodle owners who live in very nice places and travel quite often, needing someone efficient and safe to manage the house and the dear doggies. Step forward that qualified English Butler Mr JC. I offer a couple of snaphots of locations: one with stunning Sydney views, the other more northerly (close in fact to the suburb where Santa appeared!).

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This suburb is called Killara:

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But I can’t find a picture of the house – so I offer instead a Lunch held there for an old friend – Miguel – before he returned to Europe. Also present: Brenda of course, my old artist pal Steven from Canberra (now), Graham (a fantastic zoologist friend – his partner Debra is on the camera!).

There are more plans for further house/dog sitting at both locations in the New Year and I am working on widening the contacts list. There’s a lot of competition from the so-called ‘grey nomads’  (look that up!) who will house-sit for free, whereas my comprehensive services have a cost! Luckily my word-of-mouth recommendations work well enough.

As I said at the start, I am involved with an exciting theatre project in a few months which you can read about soon on a further blog.

But for now, as December 27th draws to a close here (and a Happy Birthday to one of my oldest friends, Marilyn in the Orkneys), I shall also draw this blog to a close.

The adventure continues. I hope to be back in the UK sometime in 2013 – there are (inevitably) things to sort and various possessions to be sold off, or passed to deserving causes! Watch out for a good garage sale too!

In the meantime – I wish you all as exciting, stimulating, scary and fulfilling year in 2013 as this year has been. With love and all good wishes.

JC

j5DONEoo-er, missus………