A Grand Tour: South Tyrol, Leicestershire and my vegetable garden – Oh yes, and Twink

For many people summer is about lying on a beach, getting sunburnt, but although I’ve tried to do it, I’ve never really succeeded. For a start, I turn the colour of an over-cooked lobster in about twenty minutes, but before that I get bored. Bored stiff. No, to be honest, I’d rather be out-and-about doing things and the more diverse the better. The last month has been splendid in that regard. Every day starts with 3 hours writing Alan Cadbury‘s second adventure – known in our household as AC2. And I have to say it’s going quite well and about to get a bit dark and brooding. It’s funny: but although I plan what I’m going to write beforehand, the final product is often very different. It’s as if the book and the people within it are beyond the control of a mere author. I’m just a pipe, a conduit, through which the action flows. And on the whole I think that’s quite healthy – dammit, pipes can’t acquire huge egos. Even the largest conduit of all – the Channel Tunnel – is surprisingly humble, when placed alongside the glories of, say, Lincoln or Ely Cathedrals. Hmm, is this making sense? Perhaps not. And besides, I think I’m digressing (either that, or I’m turning a bit peculiar).

Alpine reservoir, South Tyrol

So back to my Grand Tour, which turns out to be rather Tristram Shandy-esque. It starts with a five-day trip to film strange things in the Italian Alps. I ate and drank far too much – I’ve always said that the Italians are the most civilised people on earth and after that short visit, I’m confirmed in that opinion. Then back in England I headed to Burrough Hill, a huge Iron Age hillfort near Melton Mowbray, where I did some more filming – for a different film. I’m ashamed to say that although it’s not far from where I live, I’ve never been there before. It was FABULOUS. And the sheep were pretty good, too. It was almost as spectacular as Maiden Castle itself, although a lot smaller and univallate (with one encircling set of ramparts). I loved the way that medieval ridge-and-furrow came right up to the main entranceway. Very Leicestershire/Rutland, that. Alan Cadbury would have approved wholeheartedly.

Burrough Hill hillfort, Leics

Then I’ve spent the last few days in my vegetable garden pruning the selfsame plum tomatoes (San Marzano is the variety) I’d been eating a week previously in Verona. But those lucky Italians with all that sunshine don’t have to remove leaves and small shoots to guarantee a good, well-ripened crop. Still, the extra work is well worthwhile as one sucks down home-made ketchup in January. Ah, the delights of vegetable gardening!

Tomatoes close-up

And finally Twink, our sheepdog. Dear old Twink is now an elderly lady. She’s arthritic and almost stone deaf, but she can still get sheep to move just by giving them ‘the eye’. I thought about getting a replacement, but having down-sized to only 40-odd ewes (so 80 lambs max.), the dog wouldn’t get enough exercise – and that wouldn’t be fair on him/her. So now we have to make-do without her, although she likes to join us when we’re driving the small flock and often manages to turn them away from the gate we want them to pass through. Still, I’d rather a few false moves than watch an unhappy Twink standing resentfully outside the field. I fear she won’t last very much longer, as Border Collies aren’t a long-lived breed, but while she’s still with us, I want her to be happy.

Twink on her back

And on that sombre note I’ll go and peel a few plum tomatoes, then cook them up with a little white wine, garlic and chilli peppers. I call it a Mexican Ratatouille. Maisie calls it ‘Your Poison’. But it’s hot and tasty. Yum!

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