Having thoroughly analysed the various quotations for the renovation project, we eventually elected to hire the builders from Cassino. They came well recommended, and had been operating in the area for several years and we witnessed their fine workmanship for ourselves. Most importantly we found that we had an excellent rapport with them, which we hoped would stand us in good stead. Notwithstanding, the builders were not to be available to start work before September.
In the meantime, at the farmhouse, there were so many things to organise. We now urgently required to get both water and electricity supplies and a telephone line connected, however infuriatingly as the month of August steadily approached, we found that that all our best made plans failed to come to fruition, as the whole of Italy slowly ground to a halt. During August virtually the entire Italian population takes its annual vacation, all at the same time. First and foremost we were required to obtain permission, in the form of a “Dia“, from the local council in order to start the renovation work, but we learned to our dismay that these offices also closed down for the holiday period.
However there was to be no holiday for us … as we spent each day working up at the house ! We realised that the more we could do in preparation, the better, as this would give us a head start for when the builders finally arrived on site. This would also help knock some items off of the builder’s quote, which would enable us to spend the money on other projects.
We got stuck in and chopped down an oversized fir tree which had been planted right next to the front of the house, and an invasive choisia bush which had attained the height as the upstairs windows, blocking out the light.
We then set about demolishing the ugly ramshackle lean-to which housed a rustic wood fired oven, and chimney.
We resolved to build another more attractive pizza oven elsewhere in the garden. All this was hard manual labour, however we were able to conserve lots of original rocks and bricks, that were embedded in the walls for later use.
Downstairs we began to clear out the area that had been used as a storeroom for olive farming equipment. It contained a few rickety wooden ladders, an olive sorting table, some rustic stools and benches, various ragged old sacks, pieces of rubber tubing and numerous dusty crates of bottles and jars.
In one section there was a rudimentary kitchen, with an antiquated rusty gas stove, an old cracked sink, a table and some wobbly chairs. A few old tools and pieces of rags and clothing hung from rusty nails, and the odd holy picture and sprigs of olive fronds were pinned to the walls. Everything was swathed in cobwebs and littered with dead flies, mice and rat droppings, and small lizards scuttled along the walls.
A little way from the house there was a small, ramshackle outbuilding which contained yet more assorted debris, and was inhabited by a large family of rats and a pair of bats which roosted in the wooden rafters.
Upstairs, the previous owners had left some old rusty bed frames, with sagging chain-mail bases, complete with musty damp bedding.
We Paul, Ben and I had tremendous fun as we began to knock down several internal, non-supporting, walls.
From the bathroom we did away with the peculiar old hipbath and crackeded bathroom suite, then chiselled off wall tiles, skirting tiles, and floor tiles and began excavating the floor to make room new for the new underfloor plumbing system.
All this we did manually with hammers and chisels, as there was still no connection to an electricity supply. Next we had to set about disposing of all the rubble and debris, which was later to be utilised as hardcore. However with a great deal of perseverance, elbow grease, not to mention perspiration, we finally managed accomplish these tasks which deducted several euros from the builder’s quote.
The builders periodically came up to visit us, and were amazed at just how we had thrown ourselves into the work. They were particularly confused as to why I, a mere women, was working so hard there. In Italy women are usually banished to the kitchen and leave such work to the men folk. Our friend Guido, laughed, and told Paul that he thought he was trying “to kill me off !!!” Well, I was in fact still very alive and kicking, despite my blistered, calloused hands and broken nails !!!
Paul opted to sleep most nights in the caravan, which was now parked on our land, with the dogs as his companions, so that it was noticed that the property was now inhabited. However one morning at Paul had a rude awakening at 5.30am when he was abruptly woken from his slumber to the sound of a loud crackling fire. He dashed outside to investigate and saw close-by a roaring fire near to the roadside. The pyromaniac culprit was a local “contadino”, who we later learned was burning off his olive clippings. He was just visible, attempting to cower behind the trunk of an olive tree, hoping to evade recognition. However Paul had already caught sight of him and proceeded to greeted him with a loud, clear “Buongiorno”. Paul explained that he was not too happy about him lighting a fire (on our land) in a period of ferocious heat and drought. We had previously been advised that one had to apply to the local “comune” for special permission to light a bonfire in the summer months, on account of the high risk of setting off wild fires. This was additionally disconcerting as we still did not have a water connection to the property !!! Fortunately there were no further such bonfires on our land and over the next few weeks the local “contadino” seemed to be trying to make amends by leaving us bountiful benevolent offerings of tomatoes, aubergines and courgettes at the entrance to our driveway.
Our son was keen to be busy, and the groves were now knee high with parched grass and weeds, so we invested in a top of the range strimmer, a mighty beast, which came with a backpack, making it lighter for carrying it over large distances. Ben seemed to take to this task, and enjoyed listening to his music through headphones during his labours. Gradually the land starting to look much less wild, slowly but surely we seemed to be taming it.
Because of the August shut down in Italy, it actually took two months to get connected to a water and an electricity supply. We were thrilled when Signor Manzo finally obliged us by setting up our water connection, well – to the extreme end of the drive anyway.
We then organised the builders to run a pipe-line up to the farmhouse, which was in fact a fair distance. We were informed that Mr Manzo is a very shrewd local business man, who owned practically all the private local water supply, and several other local businesses to boot. Guido called him the “polipo”, which in English translates as “octopus” implying he had “his fingers in lots of pies.!!!”