When you know it’s going to be a bad day…

Sometimes when we wake up, we just know it’s going to be a bad day…

At 3am one recent morning, Stu rolled over in bed and announced that the clock radio was off.

This often happens.  There’s a bit of an electricity glitch somewhere, someone fixes it and life returns to normal.

An hour later, the power still hadn’t come back on so Stu decided to check the overload switches in the switchboard.

‘They’re all OK’, he declared on his return, ‘The problem must be in Canelli.  It will be fixed soon’.

A couple of hours later, the power still wasn’t on.

That’s when we got that feeling…that it was going to be a bad day…

When we lose electricity, we lose EVERYTHING.  We worry about all the usual things such as our fridge and freezer contents, loss of lighting, loss of the oven and washing machine, the inability to recharge mobile phones, etc.  But since we are largely self-sufficient, a loss of power also means bigger things: that our well pump doesn’t work, which means we have no water…which means we can’t do ANYTHING…not even flush the toilet!

Life grinds to a sudden halt in every way, time stops and we disintegrate into people without (literally) as we flounder, sitting lost and forlorn in darkness and silence at the kitchen bench.

OK, that’s a bit dramatic but you get the picture…

Every time I have to deal with a service provider here, I take a deep breath, identify everything possible I might need (contract numbers, client numbers, phone numbers, addresses, documents, etc.), research any technical words I might need that I don’t know, prepare my phrases, then brace myself for a fast conversation in Italian, most of which I don’t fully understand.

And that’s exactly as it played out.

Eventually, the person on the other end of the line understood what I was trying to say and advised that someone would arrive soon.

Every time I hang up from these sorts of phone calls, Stu asks what happened and I always tell him ‘they’re sorting it’.

But privately I cross my fingers behind my back and retain my own private insecurities regarding exactly what, if anything, might happen…

However, to my glee, an hour after my phone call, an electrical sub-contractor’s ute arrived!  Two men got out, introduced themselves, asked where our meter box was, looked at it and confirmed that there was no power.

They returned to the utility, offloaded ladders and tools and went into our neighbour’s property where there is a pole which carries the main electricity cable across to us through the forest.  They climbed the pole, did some further testing and again confirmed that there was no power.

They returned to us to explain that the problem seemed to be in the forest and that they would return in an hour with a generator to get us through the next few days while they identified and solved the exact problem.

An hour later, the men had returned with a generator and our normally peaceful forest was humming with an industrial noise and the occasional whiff of diesel fuel.

But, joy of joys, we could FLUSH again!!!

POSTSCRIPT:  The men returned the next day to advise that they had found the problem in the forest.  They had replaced a power pole that had rotted out and restrung about 100 metres of old cable that they estimated had been about 50 years old.  Our neighbour later confirmed that the cable had been installed in 1974.  The generator was taken away immediately and out little valley returned to its normal peace…

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Yet more moving…this time stones!

This will be the last posting on the theme of ‘moving things…over and over again’…at least for this year!

Yes, I’m afraid (besides bricks and wood) we’ve also spent the past 9 years moving rocks and stones around the place.

Our latest effort ended in autumn and resulted in a splendid rock wall which wraps and curves its way around an ugly crumbly corner of land behind the fienile.

We worked for many weeks digging out what seemed like tonnes of dirt that had collapsed into the area over many years.  Our aim was to create a useable space behind the fienile for storage of firewood.

However, digging revealed years of rubbish hidden in the dirt.  The detritus included rusted steel, broken bricks, old tiles and rocks and stones, all of which needed to be exposed and sorted into different piles.

Once the area had been cleaned and flattened, we spread crushed brick and tile on the dirt to stabilise the surface and installed drains along the back of the fienile to protect it from future water seepage.

Finally we were ready to construct our dry stone retaining wall…

Unfortunately, we had failed to appreciate that not all stones are created equal.  Our stones lacked convenient perpendicular edges and smooth flat surfaces.  In fact, our odd collection was the exact opposite; it contained stones that had already been rejected twice by stonemasons: once during the rebuild of our house and then again during the renovation of our fienile.

But a stone is a stone and it takes nature millions of years to make each one.

We were adamant that every crooked, wobbly, ugly stone would find a home in our wall.

So we lifted each stone, observed it, felt it, turned it over, remembered its geometry, carried it, placed it and tested it.  Sometimes it would be temporarily discarded in favour of a better fit but it ALWAYS ultimately found a place in its own perfect position in our wall.

The area behind the fienile is now flat, dry and tidy…and our dry stone wall, while slightly unorthodox, is a work of art which we like to think carries a strong message of individuality and acceptance…

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Above: Our starting position…a mess!

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Above: Our resources…an odd selection of stones and rocks!

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Above: Our drainage

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Above: Our newly flattened area (covered by sorted detritus) and the beginnings of our dry stone wall

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Above: Our newly established firewood pile…

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Above: Our continuing dry stone wall…all the way to the chook house!

 

Firewood too…moved over & over again!

My last post was about moving things.  Many times.

This post follows the same theme.

Just like our piles of bricks, we’ve spent years moving piles of firewood…

When we first arrived, we created a very pretty but tragically tiny firewood stack (firewood stack number 1).

We thought it would do us for autumn and winter.

It kept us warm for approximately 2 weeks.

Having realised (in a rather brutal way) that we needed to get more serious about preparing for the cold season, we decided to buy firewood for that winter.  This would give us a year to identify, chop, split and stack the wood from our own land.

Unfortunately, we purchased a little too much and had to call on friends to help us stack it, this time inside the fienile (firewood stack number 2)!

To say that this supply lasted well would be an understatement.  We finished the last of it only recently, 6 years after we bought it!

At some time during those 6 years, we had decided we needed the space inside the fienile for other uses.  So we had moved the wood out into a new firewood stack against the external side wall of the fienile (firewood stack number 3).

Sadly, this firewood stack was destined to be temporary too.  We worried about having wood-eating bugs too close to a building.   After all, does a worm know the difference between munching away on a piece of firewood and having a similar feast on a roof beam?

It was at this point that we decided to build what promised to be our ‘final’ firewood stack.  This one was to be along  a flat piece of ground behind and along from the fienile (firewood stack number 4).

This worked well until we purchased chickens and had to build a chicken coop on that same precious flat land near the house.

Squeezing a chicken coop and a firewood stack in this space made life very difficult.

Enter firewood stack number 5.

While we like to think of this one as our ‘absolute final’ stack, based on our past experience I wouldn’t like to be too confident…

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Above: Firewood stack 1

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Above: Firewood stack 2

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Above: Firewood stack 3

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Above: Firewood stack 4

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Above: Firewood stack 5

Some scenes of summer here…

As the days get shorter and the nights get cooler, I thought it was time to share a little of our summer with you…

‘That’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more’…quote from Popeye

For years, we’ve been finding old stones and bricks around the place, gathering them and creating untidy piles near the house.

Our first pile of bricks was placed in a location that we were sure we’d never use.  A few months later, we wanted to use that spot and we had to move the bricks to a second pile in another location that we were utterly positive that we’d never want to use.  A few months later, we wanted to use that spot and we had to move the brick to a third pile…

You get the picture.

Anyway, if there’s one thing we’ve proven in our renovation quest it’s that we are masters of double handling.  Or perhaps triple handling…or maybe that should be quadruple handling…?

The pile has had to be moved every time we’ve decided to improve a section of the property and over time my arms have been expanding like Popeyes.

Finally, I reached breaking point.

‘That’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more’, I announced, conjuring my best Popeye impersonation.

We found a good use.

We decided to bury them.

Well, not exactly bury them; rather, place them in a channel at ground level to create a path in the otherwise bumpy and rough area between the fienile and the chicken coop.

During wet weather, that area would turn into a mud bath and we’d slip and slide our way to the chickens.  In winter, it would be even more dangerous as we slid and often fell on the ice.

A couple of weeks was all it took and we had our path laid and our pile of bricks gone.

Finally, my arms may return to something more akin to those of Olive Oyl…

We’re connected again!

Various family and friends who have stayed with us during the last 6 months will understand the frustration we’ve been experiencing with our phone and internet connection.

For many years, we had enjoyed a great ADSL internet service and about a year ago it had become even better when our provider increased our speed to 30 meg for 12 months.

But like all good things, the 12 months ended and in January this year we noticed that we’d been dropped back to 7 meg which was utterly ineffectual.  Our mobile phones could only just pick up our wifi but downloading and uploading was very slow and our computers couldn’t pick up anything.  Our days of streaming via Netflix were well and truly over.

A phone call to our provider was required, which in itself is difficult when you have a phone line that doesn’t work…

I had to stand outside in minus 10 degree temperatures during winter to make the phone call on my mobile phone.

After working my way through several levels of ‘for ?, press 1, for ? press 2, for ? press 3, etc’, I finally got hold of a real person.

The real person told me that there was nothing wrong with our connection.  But it doesn’t work, I said.  Well, check inside your house, he said.

Stu started searching for all possible problems within the house.  He checked the line coming into the house, he turned the modem off and on, he checked all of our computer connections, etc. before declaring that the problem definitely wasn’t inside the house.

I phoned the provider again.  Eventually, the real person told me again that the problem wasn’t at their end and ‘I should check the modem’.  The modem is working, I said, but all of the lights are not lit up which means the line isn’t working.  Well, check it again, it is not our problem, he said.

I sent Stu on another wild goose chase around the modem until he returned with a slightly exasperated ‘It’s not the modem!’

I phoned the provider again.  Eventually, the real person said that the problem was ‘complex’ but wouldn’t elaborate; they said that they’d fix it and gave me a work order number.

For days I monitored the work order on the provider’s website until I noticed that it said ‘fixed’.

It wasn’t fixed so I phoned the provider again.  ‘We are fixing it’, he said.

I again monitored the work order until the work order suddenly disappeared off the website!

I phoned the provider again. ‘We are fixing it’, he said.

I cried.  Great wet bulbous tears of frustration.

Finally, 3 months later, we received a phone call from the provider to tell us that they were fixing our problem!  Apparently, the line was down in the forest, which meant chainsaws and some serious clearing as well as replacement of the telephone line was necessary.  While they didn’t expressly say it, I assume that they couldn’t fix it any earlier because of high demand elsewhere and weather conditions…but why hadn’t they contacted me to explain this…and why hadn’t it occurred to them that they should refund me for the months of internet that we hadn’t had (!?)

I cried.  Great wet bulbous tears of anger.

After months of poor communication and lack of service, we decided to seek an alternative solution for the future.  So we organised another provider to install a dish direct to a satellite via an antenna close by.  Two weeks later, this provider arrived in a van which promised great things.  The workman tested the signal from the antenna to our house, then announced that it wasn’t possible because there are ‘too many trees’.

I cried.  Again.

It is now 6 months since our problems began.  Since the line was fixed, we have had to endure the slowest internet which has made using internet virtually impossible.

I have again been phoning our provider every few days to seek a solution to the slowness and perhaps the singular most frustrating thing about this whole experience has been the sheer variation in knowledge of provider representatives.  One time, I was told that we could have broadband.  While I thought this a little strange (because we’re on a private road 1km away from any broadband point), I hoped so I celebrated and waited.  No broadband.  The next time, I was told that we couldn’t have broadband but we could have 30 meg.  I waited.  No 30 meg.  The next time, I was told we couldn’t have 30 meg and that the max would be 7 meg (which I explained again was useless).  And to top it all off, yesterday I was again offered broadband!

We have now found another alternative solution which will give us internet via an amplified data SIM and cost us the earth.  But it means we don’t have to deal with our current provider ever again and it also means that trees in the forest can fall down at will and not affect us ever again!

Internet is a ‘nice to have’ (some would say ‘necessity’) these days, especially in summer when it’s too hot to be outside during siesta and in winter when we live most of our lives indoors…

Too good to be true…?

Our location in the forest means that we have no access to pipeline gas for cooking or heating.

So one of the first jobs we did in 2009 was install an independent underground gas tank.

In those early days, we weren’t living here and assumed that we may have to use gas for heating in the future.  So we installed the largest tank, which was 2,000 litres.  As part of the installation, we asked for it to be filled it with gas too.

When we moved here, we discovered that the cost of gas was prohibitive so we decided to use it for cooking and showering only and use our forest wood and pellets for heating.

In July last year (8 years after our initial gas delivery!), we were still working our way through our 2,000 litres of gas when our gas supplier phoned to tell us that they could no longer support us with gas (because we never bought any!).  They offered to sell us the the tank for EUR 1.

The EUR 1 deal seemed too good to be true so we signed on the dotted line and suddenly we were the proud owners of a gas tank.  We also found ourselves a new gas supplier and life was good.

However, a few months later, we received a letter from the government asking for proof of the renewal of our certificate for the gas tank.

The certificate had expired last year, just a few months after we purchased the tank.

Assuming re-certification would be a standard process, we asked our new gas supplier to organise it for us.  He told us that because we had purchased the tank and it hadn’t been re-certified within a certain number of months of the certificate’s expiry we would have to pay for all sorts of people to create the documentation necessary for re-certification.

This included the original installers, who would need to certify that they had installed the tank correctly and the original plumber, who would need to certify that he had connected the tank to the house correctly.  We didn’t even have the contact details for the original installers because the work had been done by a middle man while we were still living in Switzerland and we had changed plumbers years ago so didn’t really want to contact our old plumber.

It seemed that re-certification was going to cost us a lot of money and a lot of time and bother…and we now understood why the original gas supplier had given us an offer ‘too good to refuse’!

I asked our new gas supplier if there was any other option.

‘Of course!  We can install a new gas tank and have it certified for you!’, he said.

‘What’s the catch?’, I asked, smelling a rat.

‘Nothing’, he explained, ‘You just need to buy your next lot of gas from us’.

That rodent odour was still hanging around.

‘But what would be the price of that gas?  And what happens to our old tank?’, I asked.

He then explained that the gas price was currently low (in fact 50% lower than what we had paid 8 years ago!) so he would write that price into our contract and we would pay no more than that price for our next delivery, whenever that would be.  He also explained that they would remove the old tank and take it away at no charge as part of the installation of the new tank.

It all seemed ‘too good to be true’ but if it was going to get us out of trouble with the government, then we were happy.

So we signed on the bottom line and a week later, at absolutely no cost to us, a crane truck rolled up at our place carrying a new tank, a bobcat and 2 men.

Removal of the old tank and installation of the new tank took a whole day and left us with a fair bit of landscaping to do…but it DID cost us nothing and has made us legal again!