bad day at the ufficio


This message was originally sent as an e-mail to friends in late September 2006.

Every single day we’ve spent in Italy has been better than today. I woke to the sound of knocking at the door. C was visiting the girls in London and for once I’d overslept and forgotten that Carlo was due to empty the septic tank. I dashed downstairs in my sloppy stuff and greeted him. He explained that he couldn’t get his huge slurry lorry down the driveway as our car was in the way. I of course couldn’t get it out of the driveway because of his lorry so I had to park it further down our garden slope in the middle of our olive trees, churning up what little lawn we had in the process. I had a feeling this was going to be one of those days….

Our tank had started to seep some weeks ago. We’d been left no instructions on how frequently to clean it, who to call etc and had been frantically trying all our local contacts to see if anyone could help. In desperation I called the estate agent we had bought the house through 8 months previously, and with whom we’d kind of fallen out over the fee. Thankfully the lovely Michaela graciously said she’d try and find someone who could help us and sure enough she had come through with a contact a week or so later. And now here he was at the door.

Eventually the lorry had to get in position right outside the front door. The septic tank is at the rear of the house and his pipes could just about reach with the lorry flush against the front. The cleaning process began with the lorry’s engine full on of course. I asked him if he wanted a tea or coffee. He said he’d prefer a coffee – I made a mental note to really clean the cup and teaspoon when he’d finished. I finished making the coffees when I realised the house was filling up with diesel fumes – the lorry’s exhaust was disgorging right against our old door . No matter what I packed it with, the fumes seeped through. Bugger it I’d just have to deal with it once he had finished. How bad could it get?

He finished cleaning the tank after about an hour and removed all the pipes. I saw him looking over the tank shaking his head. Oh not not another frigging problem I thought; in fact there were two. He showed me the overflow pipe from the tank – I just about twigged that it needed a run off several metres long. In fact it was just 3” long so that was why the seepage was all around the lip of the tank. To compound this there was a constant flow into the tank even with all the house taps in the closed position. Somehow our water system was leaking and because we’re metered, we were paying for all that dribble, except it was a gush. I checked all through the house and found the problem to be a constantly flowing toilet flush.

Carlo suggested I get the two problems fixed asap – yep I’d do that after lunch. Not easy Carlo when you don’t know a soul and can’t speak the lingo and aren’t a plumber/builder. This felt like rich advice coming from the folk who use cardboard washers in their water systems. I was cursing our previous owners. I called our pool guy for a translation of Carlo’s urgings. Andrea just said we’d need to get it fixed soon; he couldn’t do it and didn’t know anybody who was available but would check around. But he did say that as it was a relatively small building job we’d probably struggle to find someone to come out and undertake the work. Thanks Andrea. He also apologised for not turning up the door before to cover off the pool (I’d forgotten that amongst all the fun) – but he hoped to be round the following week to do it. Thanks again A. Another bill.

The previous owners had I remembered left a tel no for some local plumbers. I got Carlo to talk to them. Apparently they couldn’t do the repair work to the tank but could have a look at the toilet’s overflowing cistern. But they couldn’t promise to do it that afternoon, though they’d try. Gee thanks guys.

In the middle of all this our English neighbour P called to ask if we fancied catching up for a lunchtime drink at Gianni’s. It was a nice thought but I explained the morning’s events and told her we’d have to call a rain check whilst we got things sorted out. Carlo was by now finishing off and I remembered I had only around 250E on me from the night before. the local ATMs have a limit on withdrawals. I knew from Michaela that the bill would be 350E minimum. Carlo confirmed this was the case and I told him I’d have to pop into town to get some more cash. Off I toddled. It’s a 10km drive and I got stuck behind every damn tractor in le Marche. I also had to find a third ATM before it would work. Eventually I got back, having driven like an Italian, about 40 minutes later. Carlo wasn’t impressed but he could see I was flustered I think. He gave me a receipt (with stains) and a knowing poor bastard smile as he explained this was a job that ordinarily needed doing just once a year. If I didn’t get the overflow fixed he’d be delighted to be back every month. Ha! that Italian humour’s a killer at times of stress. We shook hands – I made a note that I needed to get showered yet – and bade him well.

I returned to the house full of thoughts about how to sort all this and when I went in I nearly choked; the house was reeking of fumes. I opened the doors and most of the downstairs windows. It was a lovely sunny and still day. Bloody typical – great weather just when you didn’t need it. The place just stank of diesel and I realised I probably did too so I went to get shaved and showered. Whilst shaving I remembered that there was washing to put out from the night before and I also needed to recharge my mobile with the top up card I’d bought from the day before. I thought to myself that I was slowly getting more and more forgetful without C around but reconciled myself with the thought that nothing else could go wrong that day.

I got downstairs, the place was clearing slowly. I put out the washing and turned to my mobile. I had a new E50 top up card and scratched the number off and went through the recharge process. The phone said it didn’t recognise the number so I did it again more slowly and carefully and got the same response. I checked the card and realised I’d been given a WIND card rather than a Vodafone one. I hadn’t even bothered to look that carefully and now I’d scratched the number off. Oh f*cketty f*ck. Could I take it back I wondered – I’d need the receipt, and realised I must have tossed it in the rubbish sack but that we’d also had fish for dinner since. Oh bugger. I searched through the sack full of old fish skin and bones till I found the manky receipt. My hands stank, the bloody house still stank, the sodding garden area stank. I went and scrubbed my hands and the remembered to wash Carlo’s teacup. The cup stank.

The fumes wouldn’t clear fully so I opened the few remaining closed windows. One of these was in the lounge and hadn’t been opened since we’d been there as we had placed all of S and I’s wedding photos in front of it. But needs must and all that. As I opened the thing a mass of big red and black bugs fell into the lounge from the window frame, hundreds of the buggers which must have been nesting inside the seal. I massacred them with a magazine and some insect spray but they were all over me and the room. Eventually I thought I had them all and popped outside to wash the bodies off the outside window sill. As I did I stepped in something that must have leaked out of one of the disposal pipes. And I was in my slippers. Oh thank you baby Jesus. I cleaned the things off in some water outside, gagging in the process and then went and had another shower. It wasn’t even 12 o’clock and I was drained. If only our sewage was.

So I called C in London and told her of my crap (ha!) morning and then P and asked if she still fancied that lunchtime drink. She did. Before leaving I left a note on the door with R’s mobile number on it in the unlikely event that the plumber turned up. He wouldn’t of course. But 2 minutes after we’d ordered a beer the phone rang. He was outside the house. Bugger me. We headed back, showed him the septic tank, which he was unable to sort out, and the overflowing toilet, which he did fix. Hurrah. He was a really decent guy. I asked how much I owed him and he shrugged and said maybe 2E. There is a kind God after all. I gave him a 10E note and I have a friend for life I think.

I must have sounded low when I called C earlier so I though I’d call again with the slightly better news. Before that I thought I’d grab something to eat from the fridge – we’d had nothing all day apart from some crisps in Gianni’s. I looked in the fridge and took out a piece of cool Cadbury’s hazelnut chocolate bar – my favourite. I took a bite and broke a tooth in half. For f*cks sake……

Yep I’ve had better days in Italy.

pp

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About Paul

Having decided on a change of life by moving home from the UK to Italy, this is the story and thoughts of a man on a personal journey from the Blackpool Tower to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, in search of la dolce vita. After several olive harvests he's now back in London but en route he shares his very personal perspectives on life.

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