In the evening, Andrea and I went to buy wine from a nearby hotel, transport the bins to the bottom of the hill and try and get Jasmine to fall asleep in the back of the car. As we got into the car, I looked up and saw all of the stars shining down. I wished I had a pair of binoculars or a telescope to stare at them with; it would be a great place to watch the stars go past.
We got to the hotel where they take your old 1.5 litre bottles and fill new ones for you. Inside there were illustrations of beautiful Venetian flower sellers with their curly hair tied back with helter skelters brushing their faces and smiles to go weak for. There were also illustrations of Venice as a port town, boats coming in with cargo and people dragging things into the city. On the opposite wall, behind the counter there were several illustrations of a lonely travelling man in an overcoat coming in from the mountains and the rain to settle for the night.
We left and drove the long way for Jasmine’s benefit and it worked. By the time we were back up the hill she was asleep. We all ate dinner and tested the new wine; it was very drinkable. After dinner we talked about money, war, bonfire night and inevitably V for Vendetta.
The next morning after sleeping heavily. I woke up, snapped down some toast and got clearing the brambles in the forest. It’s an incredibly satisfying job once you get going and any stress I might have had beforehand (which was none) would have been well and truly gone by the time I was done. I managed to clear a huge hole in what was previously a wall of weeds and it was even starting to look like the forest it used to. Annabella made a bamboo fence to complete the chicken enclosure.
After breakfast, it was time to let the chickens roam their fenced-in forest. We let the. Out through the side hatch on their house and instantly one of them jumped through the gaps in the fence. Not the perfect result. Anyway, we figured we’d get some smaller fencing and put it around the bottom.
Ruth and I took to tackling the brambles while Annabella and Denny started to burn them. We were working at the top of the hill so everything has to be cut into smaller pieces and then put on a tarpaulin that two or three people drag down the hill.
As we worked, Ruth and I talked about many things: the house, ghosts and the previous owners included. The house used to belong to an animal charity and the woman who lived there used to put her speakers on the windowsill and play music when the hunters were out. Not for their entertainment, but to make the animals move away from the area. Knowing this, I sang for the rest of the morning. Sometimes in the house you’ll catch a shadow on the windows or see a figure in the corner of your eye, Ruth says the lady is still about.
After lunch Ruth had an English class with Giulio, a wee nine year old with blonde hair and an honest smile. Annabella asked me to help her unload the tarpaulin and so we put it next to the back of the house where the fire had gone out from the morning. There were some sticks near the house so I chose to build the fire. As I did, the embers from the morning started to burn slowly and smoke appeared. I ran inside and told Denny who gave me a cardboard box and I soon had it going again.
I spent the rest of the afternoon burning all of the brambles that we’d cut. In the evening it went dark and I stayed outside as I wanted to finish the job of burning. All alone in the dark, i watch the fire; the orange sparks from the fire danced in circles like fairies who disappeared up into the sky meeting the bright burning stars. It was incredibly peaceful. Just as I was nearly finished burning, a small voice appeared followed by a floating patch of blonde hair. Giulio.
‘Glass of wine?’
‘Vino’ (makes hand gesture).
Blonde tuft reappears attached to boy with wine bottle and glass. I thanked him and he stood minding the fire with me. He saw I was using a stick to push things onto the fire so he walked into the dark and returned with his own. We made quick work of the brambles and they were burning high and fast. Over the hum of the fire, Giulio’s Mum could be heard. He soon vanished into the darkness with a goodbye and a smile.
Back in the house it was wine o’clock and after talking about it for a few days I asked who wanted to cut my hair, Ruth did and she did it well. I was looking much better than the previous year with my beard trimmer.
The next day I woke up later, about 9 and swiftly made my way to the breakfast table. Everyone was feeling the wine from the night before. We crunched toast and gulped tea then it was back out to the brambles.
The breakfast, brambles, lunch, brambles, stop, wine o’clock, eat, guitar, singing into the night routine continued forma few days. In the middle, one night Regina returned from Florence and it was lovely to have her back, the next night Denny declared I would be an investigative journalist, a job which would allow my curiosity to get into all sorts of interesting places.
Saturday afternoon I was walking down the hill for buckets of water and I noticed that I no longer looked at the time but at the sun. When it reaches the side of the mountain, there’s about a five minute window before it gets very cold, and starts to grow dark. I thought of all the shifts I’d worked in call centres, shops, and classes where the clock had dictated my freedom, and now the beauty of the sun setting behind some mountains declared the end of my working day. It would set, staining the sky red around the sun and if you drew a line with your eyes diagonally right above your head, at the opposite horizon, the sky was a grey purple making the whole rainbow from one side to the other. That’s not a bad replacement for a digital clock in the corner of a computer screen. Also during my work, I don’t feel trapped or bored, and if I do, I sing to scare off the hunters, growl at the brambles which have wound their way to the tops of the trees, or stop a moment to watch a bird of prey scanning the ground from the sky. As I filled the buckets and hauled them up the hill for a second time, my calves burned, my back was weary and my feet heavy, but inside I was as light as a feather.