Earlier this year, in February, we stayed at the house for a few weeks and were, one fine day, planting some new vines when we heard a pleasant tinkling. Looking up, we saw, on the fringes of the woods above, a group of goats. Goats are, of course, not uncommon in these parts. Last autumn we ran into, almost literally, a herd (flock?, tribe?) of a hundred or so, complete with lonely goatherd and some collie-type dogs marshalling them on the track to Orrido Di Botri. But you don’t expect to see them wandering around your garden. They visited several times, usually after lunch, and caused no particular problem. In fact the herd (flock?, tribe?) turned out to include a couple of sheep and three small kids – goat kids, not stray children! How charming, we thought, how picturesque! You wouldn’t see that in Hastings, that’s for sure.
Our neighbour, Aldo, had previously blamed some of the small damages to our plants on the deer and ‘capriole’ but I had assumed that I had misunderstood. Now, however, I had the evidence of my own eyes and tried to ask him to whom they may belong as they had bells and were obviously not wild. He shrugged and took little notice of my mangled Italian, especially when I mentioned the sheep. In fact, looking back, I may have asked why the sheep were ringing the church bells, which would account for his indifference to thissomewhat confused Englishman.
Back in the UK, preparing for our next visit at the end of March we received a text from Aldo’s daughter. The goats, she claimed, had eaten the vines and fruit trees! Hmmm. Whilst consternated (is that a word?) we thought that a little exaggeration may be involved. In particular, we thought, a deer may have nibbled at ‘his’ vines. Aldo had bought, planted and cared for black and white eating grapes growing on the house wall, which they do very successfully. Damage to these, we knew, would cause him great distress. His own small orto is like a fortress with many layers of defence in a perpetual war against any and all types of pestilential nuisance, real or imagined. We were, therefore, a trifle blasé as we arrived for our next stay.
Sure enough, the first thing we saw, arriving after dark, was the aforementioned white grape which seemed to have not a developing bunch upon it. You see, we said to each other, it is damage to his own vine that has caused the distress. Ours will be fine. Morning revealed the horrible truth. Pretty well every one of our fifty or so old vines had been stripped of all new growth. All our two year old apple, pear, plum and cherry trees had been similarly stripped. Our new olive trees had been knocked over and every leaf eaten. The only survivors were this year’s newly planted vines and the old apple and pear trees which bear fruit above goat head height and will not succumb to pushing and shoving by 40kg animals. And… and the wretched animals had the temerity to turn up after lunch and start mowing the grass by the pool. I can only hope that the obscenities uttered could not be heard in the village below.
Once equanimity was restored and the absence of any wine-making this year accepted, we set about improving our expensive defences against these strimmers in animal form. We spoke again with Aldo, this time with better result. He now knew who owned these beasts and together we planned to walk – apparently this man’s house is inaccessible to cars – up and over the hill and we would confront him and he would secure his own land against further escape of sheep and goats. I wrote out my protest in English and had Mr Google and Aldo’s daughter translate into Italian so that I would be able to learn some of it before we commenced battle. In doing so I mentioned an estimate of the damage at €1000, made up of the cost of replacement vines, the time spent cultivating them and the cost of improved defences.
Before, however, our plan could be actioned, a little old man rolled up in a little old panda (difficult to say which was older or more battered – the same chap whose dog we had rescued from the pool – see a previous post) and he issued, in an apologetic and remorseful tone, an absolute torrent of super fast Italian spoken while trotting up and down the garden waving at one damaged vine after another, from which I thought that I may have understood that he had lots of money having sold a house in Colle to an Englishman and he would compensate me for the trouble and we should meet, together with Aldo, outside the bank on Monday morning at 09:30 sharp. How much did we want? €100, €300? €1000? €10,000? it didn’t matter. I tried very very hard to tell him that we didn’t want money, all we wanted was for him to mend his fence and stop the animals coming. To no avail. As it turned out – for we vaguely knew, and met that evening by chance, the only Englishman in Colle – I had misunderstood the first part of what he had said, but we persisted with the second.
So it was that Aldo and I were stood in the village square at the appointed time on the appointed day with Aldo fully briefed to insist that we didn’t want any money, just a mended fence. Somewhat surprisingly, on the dot of 09:30, our antagonist arrived. There followed half an hour of relentless argument with Aldo, reluctantly, it must be said, insisting on my stance of no compensation and he, the goat owner, insisting on payment. Finally, there came a moment’s silence and he broke it by saying “wait for me here” and charged off to the nearby bank. I was cross, Aldo was resigned.
We waited. And waited. This bank, I knew, for we have an account there, was more than a little slow when dealing with a queue of two or more. We carried on waiting. Finally, we decided to go into the bank to see what was going on. We did so. It was empty.
Puzzled, we came out and made for the car. And then he appeared, our newly acquired distant neighbour, scuttling down the street, shouting and waving for us to come with him, which we did. He then took us down the main street to the other bank in town where, having wangled our way with some difficulty through the security door, we were ushered into a separate room. A nice young lady urged me to sign here. I did as told, as the inkling dawned that he was making an insurance claim for €1000.
And that is how I have become an accessory to the compensation culture that I have so often despised.
The next day we arrived at the house, after a pleasant lunch, to find, munching away at the hydrangea…