Sunday, 28 July 2013

The Bad news and The Good News

The bad news is that my Labrador, Lucky, had a stroke recently and she isn't too well. When she had the stroke I thought it was curtains. She couldn't stand up, kept crashing into things and didn't seem to know where she was. After some serious doses of Cortisone and now some tablets for her blood she seems better, although she is still very dodgy on her legs. She is nearly 14 so the moment of reckoning cannot be that far away. Hey ho.
The seriously marvellous good news is that our neighbour died, quite unexpectedly. He was only 70 which, in Italian expectancy terms, makes him a virtual teenager. But his falling off his perch has changed our lives. They lived in Genoa. He and his wife used their house here as a summer home. So they came up at the beginning of May and left around the end of September. Psychologically he always had the advantage in that his house is above our road so when we came to our gate we had to look up to see if he was there. He was the most unpleasant, inconsiderate, selfish, pig-ignorant person I have ever met. When they were in residence there was a constant stream of noise. He had an electronic organ with all the disco-effect bells and whistles that he loved to play for hours on end. At maximum volume. Pum-padda-pum-padda-pum-padda-pum.  Their dog howled for hours when they went away. Their TV was always on maximum volume. When we suggested that they might have more consideration for their neighbours (us) he used to say that when in the "countryside" he wanted to do what he liked. They even had a bloody cuckoo clock which joyfully chirruped every sodding hour. They argued incessantly. Earlier this year he had an intestinal blockage, went under the knife and, wonderfully, it was too late. His widow can't drive so for now we are in delicious isolation.
There is a God.
Thank You. Thank you. Thank you*

* © Jenny Agutter, The Railway Children.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Duck's Arse

I think in the misty past I may have alluded to the fast that the Piemontese can show quite remarkable levels of tightness.
I was working at the London International Wine Fair recently. I was showing a few wines, one of which was a Moscato d'Asti, the light, frothy, slightly sparkling sweet dessert wine. But not sticky or heavy, more like angels dancing on your tongue*. It comes in at about 5ยบ of alcohol so you could pour it over your cornflakes and still drive to work.
The one I wanted to show was from a local producer. I went to see him at his hillside vineyard, having been there previously to buy wine on my own account, and explained the exhibition to him. Biggest in the UK, good opportunity, excellent showcase event, blah blah blah. I said I didn't want many bottles for the stand as the tastings were selective. He then brought me a case and asked for the full retail price at €5 a bottle. Somewhat surprised I paid up, left and got the box shipped to Blighty.
At the show there was some interest. This producer is good and is one of north west Italy's foremost organic winemakers. But he has no distribution in the UK.
Getting back here I sent him an e-mail telling him that an importer was so impressed with his Moscato d'Asti that they would like to sample some of his organic Barbera d'Asti and Dolcetto, both decent local reds.
He said he would be more than delighted to send some samples if the importer would like to pay for the courier cost. Which is probably around €100.
So far this tasting has cost him zero, zippo, zilch.
Sod all.
So the company that I work for not only paid full price for the wine samples, but also the transport, the stand, me, my hotel, my meals, my drinks (God help them) and my flights. But he wants this potential customer in a huge market like the UK to pay €100 for DHLing the samples so he is then sure that they are 'interested and genuine'.
Give me fucking strength.

*©Ron Combo. Proud of that one.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Where there's a will...

I did write a pretty virulent Last Post but (a) in the sober light of day and (b) on the advice of my professional team of counsellors I have deleted it as it was too bitter and rancid even by my own minimal standards. It was also a little too personal. Family stuff you understand.
So, time to say arrivederci and toodle pip old chums wherever you may be.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Airport Musings

Of late, I have been spending far too much time at Gatwick Airport. I am intrigued by the sort of corporate advertising one sees upon arrival on the interminable hike from the plane to Border UK or whatever it's called this week. They are usually horizontal Adshel six sheets. The first one might show a woman running on the horizon of a very green field. The sky is blue. Her face is the picture of concentration. Underneath in Helvetica is Performance and in a logo KS&G. The next one might show two shirt and tied, slim 30-something 'businessmen' shaking hands but not smiling too much. The grip is firm 'though. Underneath is the text Delivery + logo of course. Then there might be a woman post-delivery, in bed holding her grizzling new born, Passion (passion: possibly this decade's most overused word). The next you can make up maybe. Perhaps a 48 storey office block at night with just one light burning at some office on the 23rd floor. What shall we put underneath? I know! Commitment. Then the last one has a sort of fizzed-up Mercator Projection of the world done by some 23 year old whacked out on charlie with arrows all over the shop and underneath Keimann Schultz & Greishaup. Crossing frontiers, delivering change. And I stop and realise that I don't have the faintest idea what these people do. Are they chartered surveyors? Caterers? Investment bankers? Nice work if you can get it I suppose for the ad agency.
Whilst I am on an airport rant, there are some suggestions I would like to put forward which might make travelling by air a little less ghastly.
1. The British are a foul race. Badly dressed, ugly, invariably either terribly overweight or heroin thin, spotty and pallid. They have few manners and their offspring are disgusting. Could we not have some form of entry-testing whereby any UK national who wished to use an airport would be asked a few simple questions like "What was the name of Nelson's cabin boy at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife?" and "When James Lees-Milne considered Wardour Castle in Wiltshire in 1948 as a candidate building for National Trust stewardship, what was the main architectural feature which made his response a positive one?" If they can answer those two questions they should then be required to sing both verses of "I vow to thee my country" in the key of C after which they should explain typical situations in which one might use the words "please" and "thank you". They should also pay a £600 good behaviour bond which would be refunded (less an administration fee of 50%) when they return from whichever filthy hell-hole they travelled to, provided they were not arrested or accused of anti-social behaviour.
2. Airport police. Why are they dressed as if they are rejects from a casting session for some third-rate Hollywood LAPD Swat movie from about 1983? Why can't they wear a proper bobby's uniform and carry a Webley break-top revolver? The Heckler & Koch G36 assault rifle is just not British old boy.
3. Once you get to 75 it should be against the law to fly on a civil airline. The airport was jammed solid with those electric golf carts going beep-beep-beep, their miserable passengers blank-eyed after their 2 hour flight from Spain, their colostomy bags slapping against the side of the carts. There's a departure lounge for them and it ain't in an airport.
4. On a separate note, what exactly do the firemen at Gatwick Airport do all day?

Monday, 22 October 2012


I went to Francesco's funeral this afternoon. He fell off his perch on Saturday morning, aged 86. He was glad to die, the doctors having threatened to amputate a leg just to keep him going a little longer. He was one of my most revealing introductions to Real Italy. Francesco was one of that dying breed (sorry), the contadino, the smallholder. Everything his family ate or drank (more or less), he grew. He had a few acres above the local town, vineyards, vegetable plots, a cow, a few goats, a number of hutches full of rabbits, two pigs (always named after the Italian President and the current Prime Minister..the last two were Giorgio and Silvio). They were slaughtered in his yard every February. Everything was used and consumed. I used to go there grape picking after teaching in the morning. I could always find the pickers in the vineyard by their chatter, even if I couldn't see them. Then at six o'clock we would go, knackered, to the tap near the pigsty (Ciao Giorgio! Ciao Silvio!) wash our sticky hands and faces and then go into the house for a supper prepared by his long-suffering wife Giannina. The house (not that much difference actually between the human accommodation and that reserved for the animals) just stank of pork. Salami dangled from the ceiling in various stages of maturing. Great hocks lined the walls. At table, there would be maybe 16 or 18 of us pickers and helpers, Francesco would preside over it all, his sparkling eyes reserving a special glance for any young females present. Plates and plates of food would appear, jugs of wine would be emptied and the singing would start. If it sounds all a bit Peter Mayle-ish and idyllic, well, it really was like that.
RIP Francesco Campasso. A Good Bloke.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Fruits of the Bleeding Forest

 Last year was a disaster for mushrooming but this year, with some decent rain in September followed by heat, is quite the opposite. I may have written about these before but can't be bothered to find out. Caesar's Mushroom doesn't find Blighty the right place to pop up but here is his home. They look like a shelled, boiled egg, then the orange head pops up and turns into a mushroom - bingo! Below is one morning's haul:
You have to be careful because if the head that pops out is pale grenish-white then it's one that will put you six feet under. I like to eat them (the safe ones not the dodgy ones ha ha) raw, sliced and sprinkled with finely chopped garlic and parsley and drizzled with decent olive oil. Below was a baked version, lots of garlic and parsley but with Ron's spuds. Unfortunately I didn't parboil the teddies so they were a bit hard, bloody bugger. Good zingy white wine is essential of course so an Arneis is good but I think myself and Victor the Spictor saw this one off with a couple of bottles of Smooth Tony's Pinot Grigio. Or was it his Sauvignon Blanc? Whatever innit.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Give me a Good Exploiting

This is often how it works here:
The phone rings.
RC: Pronto!
XX: Hello! We haven't spoken before. My name is Mr YY and I'm a good friend of Roberto, you know the friend of yours who works in Milan at the publishing house.
RC: Err, yeeees (who is this?) ah, Roberto, yes I think I know who you mean (faintest recall of someone I met at the Pinky Bar, once, maybe about a month ago, I'd been on Spritzes and gin). 
XX: Well, my son Luca has just got a really good job with a company in Brescia that makes safety equipment for airports and he thinks that their literature is really poor, especially the English versions. Would you consider doing some translation work for them?
RC: Of course, that's right up my street, thank you.
XX: So, it's OK if I give my son your telephone number and he gets directly in contact with you?
RC: Of course, I'll look forward to hearing from him. Thank you again.
XX: Not at all. I'm sure you'll do an excellent job, you know, you need a real English speaker for this sort of work.
RC: Well, it is a help.
XX: More than a help I'd say, ha ha! Oh, while I remember, sorry I was going to ask earlier...... I'm doing some work for a local conservation group, we're working on a castle, all not-for-profit you understand, and I've prepared a little tourism brochure and I've done the English translation myself, not like doing that technical stuff that my son will be asking you to do of course, ha ha, and I was just wondering if you wouldn't mind giving it the quick once over, my English is pretty good but I just thought you might be able to polish it up a bit, if that's OK with you, shouldn't take more than ten minutes. Would you mind?
RC: You'll need my e-mail address then....(and on it goes)

What then arrives is about 600 words that kick off something like this:
"The Cazzo Castle stand proud over enemies from time ever and today is tired. Us worker do hard thing making castle new happy. Castle is all covered in tree with bird and beast. Tower is a heavy monument. The big Lord last drink strong wine here back 1790..." (continues thus for another 550 words).

1. It is a hundred times easier to translate from the Italian than rework this garbage.
2. I am not going to get paid.
3. His son Luca is a trainee forklift truck driver in said company's warehouse. There will be no translation work with payment.