Saturday 26 September 2015

Summer 2015, part 2

The new house

has unfilled spaces
I measure with my thoughts,
wide windows and verandas
bursting with light,
a white staircase spiralling up,
knots in the honey wooden floor
like dark birthmarks or gigantic ants
I skip by instinct.
The corners are sealed with golden velvet,
the walls are cream.
On the roof the skylights mirror the blue
in trembling reflections.
I lean from the balcony drowsily
looking down at the grey tarmac,
a pool of flames.
This is a poem I wrote on my new house just after buying it. It gives an idea of how spacious  and full of light it is. It looks smart and clean as it is only a few years old. We didn’t need to do much refurbishing or redecorating but we decided to get rid of the carpet and have engineered wood flooring, a warm dark honey colour that gives a pleasant atmosphere. I found the person who made the job by chance on the internet ( ), which was very lucky, it was such a perfect choice that I absolutely recommend him for his precision and professional finish.

As I said in my previous piece, during the process of the move we realized we had too much of everything, above all clothes, books, photos and paintings, china things and other glass or ceramic objects we brought from Italy, reminders of weddings, birthdays, christening, etc. We didn’t have the heart to getting rid of them. I know a move is a good opportunity to make clear what you really need and what you will never need again (and this was the attitude we had when we moved from Italy to Lancaster, but that was a more radical kind of move), but this time we decided for a more moderate approach. We were just moving from the north of England to the south of England after all, we weren’t properly downsizing so we didn’t need to be so drastic. We kept almost everything included all the photo albums, our children’s childhood books and teenage books, both in English and in Italian (they may get handy with our future grandchildren), all DVDs and VHS. The problem was that we didn’t have enough cupboards and bookcases for all of them, so we decided to buy more. Our favourite place to buy furniture is Ikea, of course, cheap  with simple kind of furnishing adaptable to all kinds of spaces.

Our Ikea mania started when we spent a year in Stockholm about fifteen years ago. It wasn’t so well known in Italy yet and there wasn’t one in Rome. It was all so new and exciting for us, especially for the children, who were very little at the time. We spoiled them with all the colourful soft toys, puppets and cosy children furniture.

There are two easily reachable Ikeas in the south west, one is in Croydon and the other in Southampton, plus another one in the north west of London. We visited all of them more than once. Though all Ikeas look pretty much the same and have similar things, we wanted the whole tour just in case we missed an offer or a piece in a slightly different colour, but above all because we enjoyed it. Maybe this is because I link it to the happy memories we had in Stockholm and to all the fun the kids had there. We bought bookcases and shelves, as many as our lounge, bedrooms and even the kitchen could fit. Then a sofa (the two big ones we had in Lancaster we gave to charity), some chairs and innumerable bits and pieces, lovely things you can fill your house with, like wooden chopping boards, cool rags, frames for new photos (the ones of my son’s graduation), bright plastic bowls and boxes,. Needless to say we couldn’t miss out on the Swedish meatballs (köttbullar), the ginger biscuit (pepparkakor), various other biscuits and the rye and bran crisp bread (knäckebröd). It was like being back in Sweden in a way.

We spent a few days assembling the furniture and filling it. Then we realized we needed some more chairs for the lounge. Unfortunately Ikea ones were not strong enough for my autistic daughter Valentina, she would break them in no time. We needed a different solution. Strolling in the centre of the village where we now live, I spotted a few shops with new and old furniture, sort of antiques at its best. I browsed around and was struck by four sturdy wooden chairs perfect for our needs. We needed six though, but looking more carefully there were two bigger chairs which would be ideal at the two heads of the table. The colour and the shape matched with our table and with the lounge perfectly. We tried them and they were comfortable too. It was a deal, no sooner said than done they were around our table.

Home base was the other regular stop for different kinds of tools and for flowers, especially orchids, which my daughter became fond of. She collected about ten different types from big white ones with a pale yellow core to deep purple, yellow with red freckles, cream with violet spots and so on. They are all beautifully displayed in her room now, which is the biggest one on the top floor.

In spite of all the space and storage we managed to fit in the house, eventually we realised it was not enough. We needed a replacement of the garage we had in Lancaster. “What about a shed?” My husband suggested. So it became his task to find and order the right shed to store all the stuff we rarely use but that might become useful in the future. He found a nice one made by a company in Kent. The only problem was that to make it more stable we needed  paved ground, or so they said. Our garden was half paved and half lawn. Caught up in the excitement, we decided to pave it all. Cutting the turf was not easy but digging the ground 10-15 centimetres deep was much harder. We hoed and spaded, then filled bag after bag of soil and emptied around a hundred of them at the recycling centre. In the rain and sunshine we worked for a week, a huge effort but eventually the big hole was done. Then we had to fill it with sharp sand (as per instruction on youtube video clip) and used a mixture of quick sand and cement to fix the slabs on top. The final result was all right, not perfect but we were happy with it. It was only fourteen square metres but all made by hands, no diggers or other machines involved. A big and strenuous achievement.

Unfortunately all the digging disturbed several ant-nests. The ants retaliated by wandering everywhere, ending in the lounge and from the lounge into the kitchen. We weren’t worried at first but started to be when I found them inside the kitchen drawers and cupboards. An ant phobia began. My husband placed ant baits everywhere, I cleaned meticulously the kitchen tops and floor twice a day and sealed sugar, flour, coffee, biscuits, chocolate, everything ants could be attracted to into tins, jars and Tupperware. All of it seemed useless, they had found the way and kept searching for any tiny remnant of food sticking to a wooden spoon or to a few crumbs left on the kitchen top or to grains of sugar accidentally fallen in a drawer. They were driving me crazy. I dish washed all pots, pans and cutlery. During the day they seemed to slow down but at night they spread again and in the morning they would be everywhere despite the kitchen never having been so clean. Finally my husband sealed all the possible holes, slots and chinks with silicon which concurred with a few days of torrential rain and the ants magically stopped. I don’t know if it was the rain, the silicon or my obsessive cleaning, or all three together, but now not an ant has been around since. So we could go back to our moderately dirty standards.

Sunday 13 September 2015

My summer holidays 2015, part 1

 The most exciting, touching and uplifting moment of my summer was my eldest son’s graduation ceremony at Whitworth Hall in Manchester. The ceremony was simple and beautiful, my son was happy and pleased of his achievements. We were all incredibly proud of him. I must say, it was a big moment for the whole family. My parents and parents in law were there as well, we took a lot of photos, kept smiling and congratulating him. We were overjoyed, maybe looking a little silly but it didn’t bother us.

After the ceremony we went to celebrate in an Italian restaurant, Al Bacio, in the centre of Manchester along with the family of my son’s girlfriend. We had great fun and ate so much food. We started with almost all the antipasti available (except soup), that is fritto misto, caprese, bruschetta, aubergines, squids, salami and cheese. Then we chose a main dish each, lasagne, cannelloni, gnocchi, linguine and/or steak, veal, fillet. We had plenty of side dishes and desserts of course, and a surprise from the chef: a pineapple cut in the shape of a swan soaked in sambuca. Everything was delicious. Old Italian songs were wafting around, all pre-WW II songs, or just after it, my parents’ time songs. It created an atmosphere of old times that I was not sure my children were aware of, except from what they’d seen in films like The Godfather. It was a great day and my son clearly appreciated it.
After the graduation, my parents and parents in law were with us for about a week. We couldn’t go sightseeing as we were already busy packing and preparing for the imminent move. They helped us of course and we took them around Lancaster for some shopping. Even if it was only for a week they were very happy to see us and to attend their first grandson’s graduation.

We had started packing our stuff more than a year before the move but very slowly. During the last week we rushed things up and boxes suddenly started piling up in the lounge and in the garage, the only places we didn’t need for our daily life. The night before the first official moving day we worked till exhaustion. At the end my husband and I felt so tired that we left my son and daughter to do the last bit and went to bed.
The day the movers arrived (a team of eight sturdy guys who emptied our house in about four hours) we grouped in the kitchen to sort the last things out. More and more things came out from cupboards and drawers. All coats, dresses, trousers and suits were moved from wardrobes to wardrobe boxes (we filled ten of them!). On the whole it was quick and efficient, which left no time to think or regret. Finally we cleaned the house (it was easy to vacuum empty rooms and wipe clear cupboards). In the afternoon I drove south with my daughter. My husband came the following day with the rest of the family.

On the third day all the stuff arrived in the new house in Surrey (a huge truck completely packed with our belongings). It was a cold and rainy day, I mainly looked after my autistic daughter Valentina who was quite unsettled, which was understandable as she hates changing places and routines. The kitchen was again the only safe place we could find. The rest of the house was in the hands of the moving company’s staff (only two of them this time) and the rest of the family, who helped them for the whole day in and out in the rain. At the end they were wet, cold and drained.
We found ourselves surrounded by a huge amount of boxes and half assembled furniture. And the best part would still be to come. The following two-three weeks was an unpacking ordeal, at a certain point I thought it would never end. I remember sometimes I would take a quick break and rest on a half unpacked box before starting on again after a while. Too much stuff was my conclusion, we accumulated things without being aware of it and this was the price.
While I am writing, there are still a few boxes in the lounge. Some of them will be soon placed in the shed that will be ready in a few days, the remaining ones are full of my collection of dolls and puppets that I need to set in cupboards and glass cabinets, and last but not least photos and paintings. There’s no hurry, we’ll finish well before Christmas.

It’s great to be in the new house. It’s a town house in a beautiful gated compound with a small park for children and a pond. It’s peaceful and green. The nearby village is lovely with nice shops and all the necessities we need but I’m relieved the move is finally over.

Sunday 6 September 2015

My summer holidays 2015

My summer was definitely hectic, tremendously exciting and tiring at times.
I had the move from Lancaster (Lancashire) to Chobham (Surrey). Before it, I had the wonderful experience of my eldest son’s graduation in Manchester while at the same time my parents and parents in law came from Italy and stayed with us for a week. Only a week after they left, we had the move. A packing fever gripped the whole family, we worked day and part of the night to empty our house of all the stuff we had accumulated over eight years. The move lasted three days and left us exhausted in the new beautiful house, surrounded by more than a hundred boxes on a rainy cold day. It was the end of July and we had about a month before work started again...

I will post more about my busy summer from next week.