As Christmas approached the work of restructuring the house continued slowly but steadily. It was a little frustrating at times, as by now the builders were also working on another job, constructing the concrete framework for a new house. It was not until later that we learned why the builders had such split loyalties – the fact that the building licence for this new property (which allowed 2 or 3 years grace in which to build the basic structure) was very shortly to expire, i.e. at the end of the year. However, generally Orazio and his team continued to be just as helpful as before. We were so lucky to have taken them on.
By mid December they had completed repairing our roof, had constructed the downstairs bathroom extension and the new upstairs terrace. The new drainage system was laid connecting to the new septic tank.
Internal walls had been constructed, wiring for the electrics and pipes etc for water and heating had been arranged on the rough floor. Plastic domes were then fitted over the top to allow air to flow before the finished level of floor, before all of this was finally encased in a thick layer of concrete. The new doors and windows were fitted and the wood-burning stove was installed.
We had set our hearts on moving into the farmhouse before Christmas. The villa that we were renting we found not at all suitable as a winter let. When we had moved in there the summer before, we had no intention of staying there for so many months. By this time the weather had turned much colder and the villa, being perched up high in an exposed position, was daily buffeted by strong icy winds and persistent driving rain. The windows were flimsy and ill-fitting, and if we closed the shutters against the elements we were left living in a perpetual claustrophobic gloom. On some mornings a dusting of snow decorated the surrounding mountain peaks and an icy frost formed in the shady valleys.
We were still living in the rented villa, however we had given up using the fridge/freezer long ago when the internal temp of the refrigerator would only get down to 20°C. The washing machine had never worked properly, refusing to spin, which meant that I had to wring everything out by hand, making it much harder to get clothes dry and aired, especially in the winter months. Just how did Paul attempted to mend it, but to no avail, and of course there was no instruction booklet. The control dials were printed in some incomprehensible language, and we suspected our landlord had acquired it on the cheap. He was known locally for being a little “atirato” – otherwise known as “tight” !!!
However it was back in October that we first began to notice some small patches of damp on the ceiling of one of the bedrooms.
As the weeks progressed, it soon became clear that the house had a problem with condensation, due to its poorly insulated roof, and north facing walls. The inefficient central heating system was powered by an aged unserviced, gas guzzling boiler, and the small inadequate radiators struggled to give out enough heat to even take the chill off the rooms. We tried to keep my parents warm with an electric heater, but ironically it often seemed to be colder inside the villa than the temperature outside. Thus the mould spores multiplied and the mould took hold in almost all the rooms.
We discussed these problems with the landlord, who we had nicknamed “Scrooge-io” and requested a reduction in the rent to compensate for the less than favourable conditions. However he would have none of it. In fact he wanted us to pay extra for both the gas and electricity. He knew that we were trapped and he intended to milk us dry. We said that we could not afford to pay any more rent as we had been forced to live in rented accommodation for much longer than we had initially intended. When the rent was due for December we once again showed him the unsavoury conditions, there was now green and black mould on the walls / ceilings of most rooms. Bedclothes and clothing in wardrobes had become damp and mildewed in the dank, musty air. The humidity had even caused both the computer and DVD player to blow up. Paul explained to him that we were working hard up at our new house, as we longed to move out before Christmas, and that we hoped that we would not be charged for the last few days or weeks at the villa. The landlord laughed in our face, showing no compassion, despite the fact that the “Season of Good Will” was fast drawing near.
Desperately we worked long into the nights in an attempt to make the new house as habitable as possible. The packs for two kitchens and two sets of wardrobes ordered from Ikea arrived like clockwork, which just gave us the additional headache of finding somewhere to store all the packages. However, despite all our efforts, somehow things just did not pan out as planned. We had fallen foul of the Italian “wind down” to the Christmas holidays – just like in August everything seemed to be grinding to a halt. The sanitary ware that had been ordered quite some time before failed to arrive at the plumbers’ merchant. Each day we were told “Domani” (the Italian equivalent of the Spanish “Mañana”) …and the next day … and so on and so forth.
The builders truly felt sorry for us, and helped us by giving two rooms a quick lick of paint to brighten things up.
Dear Alfonso, our plumber/electrician, valiantly did his best to purloin another similar bathroom suite, so that at least we could have a functioning toilet, however unfortunately it just didn’t fit the pipework, despite all his good intentions. So we were eventually left with a temporary arrangement – a toilet with no flush, so we had to use a bucket to manually implement this function, and a washbasin and a shower which were still not operational. My birthday came and went, with no time for any celebration and then our son’s girlfriend arrived to spend Christmas with us. They helped us to assemble one of the new double beds, some wardrobes and some kitchen units.
On the last day of work, on the day prior to Christmas Eve, we exchanged gifts with the builders. They presented us with a whole freshly killed rabbit, a big box of mozzarella cheese and numerous bottles of homemade wine. They all heartily wished us a “Buon Natale”, before setting off home to their families in Cassino.
Suddenly we found ourselves feeling very alone. All Christmas cheer had immediately evaporated and once again a dark depression set in. Despite our best efforts, our plans had been thwarted. Feeling thoroughly downhearted we realised that we still had no functioning kitchen, no cooker or hob (except for the small cooker in the caravan), no proper gas supply – just a small camping stove, no sink for washing up dishes or bathing, in addition to the flushless toilet.
Feeling utterly exhausted I began to get very tearful as reluctantly we made the decision to spend Christmas Day back at the rented villa. On Christmas Eve we went shopping in an effort to find some of the ingredients to make a traditional turkey dinner. We had already decided not to buy each other gifts – there hadn’t been time to do any Christmas shopping anyway!
On Christmas morning we all tried to put on brave faces, and opened some cards and presents that had arrived from family and friends, which cheered us a little. We set to work preparing our Christmas meal and spent the rest of the day watching repeats of Christmas programmes on BBC Prime / Sky. We took a family vote and made the unanimous decision to move out of the rented villa the following day and make the best of it, even if the farmhouse wasn’t as finished as we would have liked it to be. We considered that it would be a darn sight drier and less draughty than the cold, damp and mouldy villa.
Thus on Boxing Day Paul and I prepared our new home by stoking up the “termo camino” or wood-burning stove to make the place feel warm and cosy, and set about transporting some of our essential belongings, before finally transferring my parents, Tina and Hugh to their our abode.
Thus we spent our very first night at “Tre Cancelle”. Paul and I slept in the chilly caravan, tucked under several layers of clothes and quilts, snuggling up to hot water bottles.
The following day our son and his girlfriend set off on their long drive back to the UK. He had enjoyed his nine months in Italy, but had missed his friends greatly, so had decided it was time for him to return to get a job, earn some money and pursue his own life. It was sad to see him go, but we wished him well with his hopes and future endeavors.